As the 2023 session of the state Legislature in New York nears its end, there is a renewed effort to permit the sale of wine in grocery stores. This marks the first significant push for such a change since an unsuccessful attempt in 2010. New York’s prohibition-era ban on wine and hard liquor sales in groceries has been in place for decades.
The issue has sparked a clash between powerful business interests within the state. Grocers are in favor of the change, as it would allow them to expand their product offerings. However, owners of wine and liquor stores are concerned about potential business losses that could lead to closures.
The stance of the state’s wineries appears divided, while major wine and liquor distributors oppose the idea.
Cornell University food economics professor Bradley Rickard, whose research on the pros and cons of wine sales in grocery stores has been referenced in past debates, commented on the recurring nature of this discussion, stating, “It’s that time again. The sides are lining up.”
The initiative is presented in a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Pam Hunter (D-Syracuse) and Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan). The primary goals cited by the sponsors are consumer choice and convenience.
“While many laws have been updated to reflect modern times, consumers are still stuck making multiple trips to different stores for groceries and wine,” states the bill’s justification. “This anachronistic model provides no consumer protections, but instead protects an entrenched monopoly that is to the detriment of convenient access for consumers. If consumers can be trusted to buy beer in supermarkets, they should be given the option to also purchase wine with their groceries as well.”
The sponsors refer to a recent poll conducted by Siena College, which found that 76% of New Yorkers support the sale of wine in grocery stores.
Similar to previous versions, the current bill does not include hard spirits (such as whiskey, gin, and vodka) for sale in grocery stores. Some states that allow wine sales in groceries also permit the sale of liquor, but this is not the case in New York.
The new bill introduces significant changes compared to previous proposals from 2009 and 2010. It seeks to restrict wine sales in large chain stores like Target and most Walmarts, limiting them to stores where at least 65% of sales come from food. Additionally, the bill aims to prevent wine sales in small convenience stores, bodegas, gas stations, and similar establishments, permitting them only in places with a minimum of 5,000 square feet of space.