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Liquor stores fear proposal for wine sales

JOHNSON NEWSPAPERS
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Ogdensburg liquor store owners are predicting they won't survive if the state Legislature adopts Gov. David A. Paterson's proposal to allow wine sales in supermarkets.


"All the mom-and-pops will go out of business within a short time," said David L. Beckner, who has owned Gerry's Spirits Inc., 1143 Paterson St., for 18 years. "Mr. Paterson's bill is a short-term view. We'll start starving and eventually, you'll see us disappear. It's a death blow."


While Gov. Paterson's measure failed last year because of opposition in the Legislature and an effective lobbying campaign by the state's small-business federation and liquor stores, the governor now claims the bill could add $93 million to the state's coffers next year from fees paid by supermarkets.


Backers of the measure go even further, claiming the state would reap $147 million in new revenue over two years, and generate $22 million a year.


"The state is looking at money that will be made from the supermarkets' liquor license applications," said Joe N. Difolca, whose Nick's Liquor Store, at 1310 Ford St., has been family owned and operated for 33 years. "But they're not weighing in what will be lost."


What will be lost, according to the store owners, is the small liquor stores.


"The little guys won't renew their licenses," Mr. Beckner said, "And two or three years down the road, liquor, too, will go to the supermarkets."


The bill would allow wine sales in delis, bodegas and gas stations licensed to sell beer, in addition to grocery stores and supermarkets. Liquor stores in turn would be allowed to sell food, cigars, lighters and other merchandise, but not cigarettes or beer. And they could open multiple locations.


"They're just throwing us bones to make it sound better," said Gregory H. Sholette of Sholette's Liquor Store, Route 37 and Linden Street. "If we're talking about making these mom-and-pop stores into party stores, then why not beer? It's Paterson's way of trying to raise some quick dollars."


All three local owners said they are urging their state legislators to oppose the measure.


State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, agree with the liquor store owners.


"I'm not supportive of it. The harm it will do to mom-and-pop liquor stores would be devastating," Sen. Aubertine said. "We're talking about fundamental fairness here."


Assemblywoman Russell is also against the proposal.


"This bill would completely change the game. New York state set up the current rules, the current system, and small business owners agreed to abide by them. New York state needs to keep up its end of the bargain and stick by the rules that have been established," she said.


A state retailers group is working to defeat the proposal.


"This misguided plan would put money in the pockets of big box stores without creating even one new job, while imperiling Main Street businesses across the state and the thousands of jobs they provide," Jeff Saunders, president of the Retailers Alliance, said in a prepared statement. "In the worst economy since the Great Depression, Gov. Paterson is proposing a job-killing plan that would crush small businesses across New York."


Mr. Beckner said 25 percent of his business is in wine sales. Mr. Difolca said 30 percent. Mr. Sholette said wine accounts for 50 percent of his business.


"Loyalty doesn't exist anymore," Mr. Beckner said. "Someone will go elsewhere for a nickel less. We can't buy at the bulk of a Wegmans or a Walmart. They could buy 200 cases to my two. Five years down the road, he (Gov. Paterson) will say, 'I was wrong,' but by then, it won't make any difference — we'll all be out of business."


"We'll disappear," Mr. Sholette agreed, "Because Walmart and Price Chopper will buy 500 cases and sell it for half the price. Where are we going to store 500 cases of wine? We're not."

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