New law could hurt SLC liquor stores

Posted 2/22/24

While a State Senate bill to establish supermarket wine licenses is making its way through the Senate committee process in Albany, local liquor store owners who rely on wine sales fear passage of the …

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New law could hurt SLC liquor stores


While a State Senate bill to establish supermarket wine licenses is making its way through the Senate committee process in Albany, local liquor store owners who rely on wine sales fear passage of the law would put them out of business.

Senate Bill S6786 sponsored by State Sen. Liz Krueger, (D, WF) 28th Senate District, would allow major supermarket chains like Wegmans, Hannafords, Price Chopper and Walmart to sell wine off their shelves. However, wine makes up a large portion of liquor store business for what are often small mom and pop shops across the state and St. Lawrence County.

The bill is co-sponsored by a small group of downstate Democrat Senators. A similar bill is being pushed in the house.

The bill, if made law, would allow grocery stores of more than 5,000 feet and those that already sell beer to sell wine, effectively benefiting big box chain stores only by allowing them entry and potential dominance in the lucrative New York State wine industry. And, those stores have the ability to purchase huge amounts of product from suppliers. That, in turn, could lead to suppliers raising the minimum purchase amount, and therefore the upfront cost, to a level that smaller liquor stores can’t afford. Such a law would effectively box out small shops from the enormous box wine market, and bottle markets as well. 

Read more of the details on the legislation at https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2023/S6786 .

What it means locally

Tracey Wilson, who owns T&R Wines & Liquors at 145 Market St. in the SeaComm Plaza with her husband Ron, says the bill would make business unsustainable for some stores.

“It will change the whole scheme of things,” Wilson said.

“It will be grocery stores only, and only certain lines, not the great selection that we have,” she said. “But for little stores, they can’t compete.”

The buying power of large grocery chains to control the minimum purchase, which could block small liquor stores from ultimately selling wine, would make it difficult for local shops to stay viable.

Wilson said wine sales make up a large portion of liquor store business. T&R does about 40 percent of its business in wine sales, she said.

Jordan Hennessy, T&R manager who plans to eventually buy the store, agreed.

“It definitely could hurt us in that way,” Hennessy said.

“And, a lot of the NY wineries are openly against it,” Wilson said.

It’s not just about the bottom line either for the local stores. In T&R’s case, the store and the Wilsons have donated to countless local jamborees, fundraisers and local non profits like Renewal House and others in its 24 years in business. The store, like many North Country spirits shops, has a role in the community beyond just being a business selling a product. If T&R and other local shops are put out of business by the legislative action in Albany, that would go away.

“We put a lot back into the community,” she said.

And, the store, like many others in the North Country, provides local jobs, often for students. In T&R’s case, the store employs 12 people besides the two owners to stay open 7 days a week.

“One of our biggest worries in my head is that we are going to lose our bread and butter in the wine,” Hennessy said.

“Companies [wine suppliers] will raise their minimum purchase levels. We don’t have the spending power,” he said.

“This is a very slippery slope,” said Hennessy.

Wilson said once the grocery store law is passed, the next step could be direct to consumer sales through Amazon.

“New York State is so unfriendly towards business,” Wilson said.

If the legislation passes eventually, things would change for the store.

“We very quickly would lose half our employees,” she said.

“We will still be here. We will still be open, but it will definitely hurt us. And then there are the smaller stores that aren’t going to survive,” she said.

At the state level

Wilson said the Wegman’s company, which runs a group of high-end grocery stores downstate, has been pushing for grocery store wine sales for years. In Wegman’s case, the company often opens separate wine and liquor stores adjacent to its large groceries to get around the current law, said Wilson. Wegman’s and other large grocery companies bring a lot of lobby power to Albany.

The local shop is being proactive and trying to generate grassroots support to kill the bill.

Wilson said she has contacted the local state representatives in the Assembly and Senate. “The ones we have say they are bored with us,” the owner said.

“And, we’re part of a lobby group for liquor stores across the state,” Hennessy added.

Local residents and customers can help support the effort to kill the grocery store wine sales legislation by signing onto an auto generated letter to the region’s state representatives at SaveNYWine.com .