By MARCO PASANELLA
“DIO mio!” exclaimed my father, Giovanni, over the phone. I had just informed him of Gov. David Paterson’s proposal to allow New York grocery stores to sell wine. And I could practically see him reaching for the Chianti when, as the owner of a small wine shop in downtown Manhattan, I told him I thought it could actually be a good thing.
Thirty-five states already permit wine sales in grocery stores, and those states still have independent retailers. But the common wisdom persists that such a move will crush me, the little guy. Big-box retailers will use their superior buying muscle to force me and my fellow independents out of business.
This is definitely a fear, especially in a slowing economy. Much of our daily sales are moderately priced bottles, a category likely to be offered in grocery stores as well. And smaller suburban retailers may indeed have it tougher as shoppers opt for the convenience of having one fewer place to drive.
But I also see these proposed changes as a huge opportunity to serve our customers better while redressing outdated, irrational and inequitable laws.
New York’s Alcoholic Beverage Control code, which has governed the sale of wine, beer and liquor since Prohibition was repealed in 1933, sometimes seems like a charmingly genteel relic of a bygone era, when buying wine for Sunday supper was regarded as the Devil’s work. We still can’t open before noon on the Sabbath.
I’m not bemoaning the loss of the Sunday breakfast crowd. But these proposals will bring increased competition, and it’s only fair that there should be commensurate opportunities to expand our small businesses. If supermarkets can have multiple locations, why are we prohibited (pardon the pun) from operating more than one store? Or from keeping the same hours?
If grocery stores can sell a Côtes du Rhône, then why shouldn’t we be able to sell baguettes and cheese? How about artisan beer? Or just reusable shopping bags? (A Rochester store was recently fined a whopping $10,000 for doing this.) What goes for the grocery stores should go for us too.
If the laws were truly fair, we independent retailers will have our own advantages. Big chains will have to buy big. And while your local supermarket pushes those same familiar bottles, independent stores will still provide substantially more selection and be better able to seek out smaller, even very limited producers, like the guy who makes just 40 cases a year of really good lambrusco.
Wine, after all, has always been more than just a floor-stacked commodity. A pleasure to be savored, a conduit for culture and the fastest way to bring people together that I know of, it’s also hard to buy without trusted help. Come to us with a recipe for gnocchi with Gorgonzola, for example, and we will help you pair it with the perfect wine — a nebbiolo from Italy’s Langhe region, in this case. And we will know you by name. Try getting that from the teenager with the name tag and the vest.Original here