SARANAC LAKE - Proponents of legislation to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores throughout New York are hoping the third time is a charm.
A new bill that would authorize grocery stores to sell wine is circulating in Albany, despite being shot down twice before - once in 1984 and again earlier this year.
This time, lawmakers are hoping the bill will gain momentum on the heels of a report by a Cornell University researcher that claims the state would see significant benefits if grocery stores were permitted to sell wine.
Bradley Rickard is an assistant professor of economics at Cornell. By his estimate, introducing wine to grocery stores could bring in an additional $22 million per year in taxes for New York.
Liquor stores say allowing wine in grocery stores would harm their business, and many law enforcement officials believe it provides minors greater access to alcohol.
But Rickard counters that the current version of the bill would provide compensation to liquor store owners to make up for expected revenue losses.
Ralph Eckardt owns Adirondack Wine & Liquor in Saranac Lake. He said the promise of tax credits and compensation from a government that can't pay its own bills doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
"They want more tax money coming in, and I can't see how they're going to make up the difference and send us a check for the money we'll lose," Eckardt said. "It just doesn't make sense to me. I don't even think they have the money to do that. I wouldn't even count on that; I think it's a ploy on their part to make it look good for all the stores like we're going to get something back for this. Like I said, the state is in such dire straights, they wouldn't have the money to make up the difference and pay us."
State Sen. Betty Little has been a staunch opponent of any legislation allowing wine sales in grocery stores. Earlier this year, she opposed the bill, which was included in Gov. David Paterson's 2009-10 executive budget proposal.
Dan Mac Entee is director of communications for Little. He said Little's main concern is liquor stores going out of business across New York.
"They wouldn't be able to compete with larger convenience and grocery stores that are not constrained by the same laws and regulations that apply to liquor stores," Mac Entee said.
Eckardt belongs to a statewide coalition called "Last Store on Main Street." The group consists of small business advocates, wine store owners and distributors. The message the group hopes to send to Paterson is simple: Stop trying to legalize the sale of wine in large-scale grocery stores.
First and foremost, the coalition said, the legislation would force over 1,000 small businesses to close; that translates to the loss of 4,000 New York jobs, according to data on the group's website.
The site notes that wine sales account for between 60 and 80 percent of all sales at liquor stores. Eckhardt estimated wine accounts for about 60 to 70 percent of total sales at Adirondack Wine & Liquor.
"It would be a major hit to business," he said.
The other concern is underage drinking. According to Last Store on Main Street, offering wine in grocery stores offer greater access to alcohol for minors.
"A good thing is all the State Police were against the other bills; the sheriff's departments, Mother Against Drunk Driving. It would just make it more accessible to kids, having wine in grocery stores," he said. "Whereas in a store like ours, everything is more controlled."
Eckhardt also noted that most area liquor stores are active in the community as well.
"A lot of us donate goods to events hosted by Pendragon or the Humane Society," he said. "I doubt the bigger retailers would do that."
As the state continues to look for ways to close multi-billion-dollar budget deficits in the coming years, Eckhardt said liquor store owners won't let their livelihoods be sold on grocery shelves.