Leaders of the New York State Farm Bureau, representing some 30,000 member families, recently voted at their annual meeting to support legislation that would allow wine sales in grocery and convenience stores across the state.
Leaders of the New York State Farm Bureau, representing some 30,000 member families, recently voted at their annual meeting to support legislation that would allow wine sales in grocery and convenience stores across the state. Grocery store owners are reportedly enthusiastic, as well. Opposed are many liquor store owners, who believe a change in the law would decimate their business.
I have been following these developments with interest for several reasons, the least of which are because I am a grocery shopper and a wine drinker, and because I am as eager as anyone to shave a few minutes off the time spent running errands. This does not translate into forsaking the liquor store in favor of purchasing wine at the supermarket, however.
Our taste in wine is changing, becoming ever more sophisticated. If I am a wine lover, as opposed to a wine drinker, then so are many others in this fabulous region of small wineries and congenial wine trails. Most of us probably start off with a taste for sweet wines, but our palates quickly become acclimated to different styles of wine. As we begin to appreciate the range of styles, we typically start exploring varietals, and eventually reach out to experience the expression of varietals from other regions and countries. Sophistication demands a wider selection, which cannot be had without greater square footage. In order for a grocery store to offer such variety as wine lovers demand, it would have to devote enough floor space to become the equivalent of — yes, a liquor store.
A Daily Messenger article (Dec. 11, “Renewed push for wine in groceries”) quoted Don Bombace, owner of Bombace Wine and Spirits on Route 96 in Farmington: “The bottom line is, putting wine in grocery stores will put us out of business,” he said. “We can’t compete.”
I think Mr. Bombace is selling himself, and others, short. He is already competing with the Finger Lakes wineries themselves, which offer their wines for sale in their own tasting rooms; he is competing with other liquor stores in the region; and he will be able to compete with grocery stores, as well. What he offers is not only wine in great variety (including an amazing selection of Finger Lakes wines), but specific knowledge of the products he sells. He and his assistant, Kathy Christ, can tell you virtually anything you want to know about a specific wine; and the “$5.99 room” at his store is legendary.
It seems likely that liquor store owners will lose this fight against the proposed legislation to allow sales in groceries. Furthermore, it is right that they should lose it, for liquor stores have enjoyed state-legislated protectionist policies that never ought to have existed in the first place. Liquor store owners may have to reinvent their business by offering education, advice, and superlative customer service, as Don Bombace does, and by finding other products and attractions to draw customers into their stores, but this legislation need not toll the death knell of their business.
Rather than fighting for legislation allowing wine sales in grocery and convenience stores, and ATMs, snacks and gift baskets in liquor stores, the Farm Bureau and liquor store owners might better join forces in questioning why the state has anything to say about who sells what, where.
(Imagine how much sooner NY wineries might have proliferated and prospered had state laws not prohibited them from selling directly to consumers prior to passage of the 1976 Farm Winery Act!)
The state is not a business. It knows nothing of risk and innovation and the creation of wealth; it knows only the wielding of coercive power through regulation. Now that New York is uncorked, she should also be unshackled.
Cheryl Miller is a Macedon resident.