New York retailers are prepared to knock down any potential moves to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores. “New York is a great state for doing business,” says Michael Correra, executive director of the Metro Package Store Association and owner of Michael-Towne Wines & Spirits in Brooklyn, New York. “There are more wine and liquor labels available here than in any other state. In the states where wine and liquor are sold in grocery stores, the number of labels sold is minimal. The consumer really wins having small businesses versus big businesses handle its products.”
While there are no apparent proposals in New York to sell wine in grocery stores, retailers are gearing up for a battle based on developments in the Rocky Mountain State. In Colorado, three propositions on the Election Day ballot have the potential to devastate the independent beverage alcohol retail industry if adopted. Proposition 125 would permit convenience and grocery stores—such as Walmart, Whole Foods, and Krogers—licensed to sell beer to also sell wine beginning in March 2023. If approved, the measure is expected to force 500 to 800 Colorado retailers out of business. “You see the kind of money that is being poured into these initiatives,” Correra says. “They are being sold a bill of goods in Colorado. It’s like Pac-Man: big business gobbling [smaller players].”
Correra is also a member of the state’s temporary Commission to Study Reform of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law to recommend changes to the state’s nearly 90-year-old laws by May 1, 2023. “I hope that our lawmakers see the importance of small businesses like independent package stores and that they don’t put an industry like us out of business because I assure you that would happen if wine is sold in grocery stores,” Correra explains.
In all, there are approximately 3,700 wine and spirits retailers in New York and about 1,000 are members of the Metro Package Store Association. “The New York distilleries and wineries are doing great—they wouldn’t be opening all of these distilleries and wineries in New York if they weren’t selling to somebody,” Correra notes. “We are building a market. Despite the challenges of Covid and New York being hit the worst since the pandemic, the economy has struggled to come back, but we are a vibrant industry.”
The last time legislation to sell wine in New York grocery stores appeared was in former Governor David Paterson’s 2009-2010 proposed budget. Beverage alcohol stores united in opposition, and Paterson withdrew it. “We were successful because the legislature spoke up and disagreed with it,” Correra says. “People saw our side.”
In New York, there are no retail wine and liquor franchises. “In other states where wine is sold in grocery stores, they don’t have salespeople to sell; they have national accounts,” Correra says. “It dumbs the whole industry down in states where independent beverage alcohol retailers aren’t strong.”
Under New York law, an individual or entity can’t own more than one liquor license in the state. Maryland-based Total Wine & More has been unsuccessful in trying to open a second retail outlet in New York. Owner David Trone received a 2016 license for Total Wine, Spirits & More Westbury, and that 26,000-square-foot Long Island unit has about 125 employees and annual sales of more than $60 million. “New York is perfectly served by retail liquor stores, not by grocers, not by Total, not by chains but by independents,” Correra says.