Alcohol farm

Press campaign for alcohol to go

ALBANY — The push to bring back booze to go got its biggest platform yet on Wednesday, as lawyers testified at a legislative hearing about the economic value of permanently reinstating a measure that has provided essential income to bars and restaurants during the first year and more of the pandemic but has since expired.

“During the 15 months the hospitality industry was allowed to sell takeout beverages, up to 40% of our restaurant members’ takeout orders included takeout or delivery (of) alcoholic beverages,” Melissa Fleischhut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said in remarks submitted ahead of a joint session of the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. She reiterated some of these points during her intervention at the hearing on Wednesday afternoon.

The joint session, with 25 scheduled speakers, focused on economic impact issues in Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed executive budget. The governor said she sees legalizing take-out alcohol as a priority for New York this year. Speakers at the hearing also took the opportunity to call for a broader overhaul of state liquor regulations.

Fleischut added in his remarks, “(alcohol to go) was a critical lifeline in helping (restaurants) keep staff employed and weather the overwhelming impact of the pandemic on our industry.” The statistics Fleischut submitted to the hearing showed that about 79 percent of New Yorkers overall favor takeout liquor, and 96 percent of those who bought it would like to see it made permanent. Those who ordered alcoholic beverages with takeout or delivery did so on average almost 13 times during the period from March 2020 to June 2021, when it was allowed under a provision of emergency that expired, Fleischut said.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, offered further support for take-out alcohol during his testimony in the afternoon. His prepared testimony said: ‘When it was abruptly discontinued last year, it was a major financial blow to struggling restaurants and bars that relied on this source of income.’

Describing the hospitality industry as having been “devastated by the pandemic”, Rigie said that in New York City alone, restaurants and bars employ 75,000 fewer people than in 2019, and thousands of restaurants have closed permanently. throughout the state. Fleischut put the figure at 4,500. In a statement given to lawmakers but not part of the one-day hearing, Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association, said the job in hospitality statewide remains 20% below pre-pandemic levels, which is 135,000 fewer jobs.

The plea at the hearing resonated across New York at five media events held earlier Wednesday at restaurants in Albany, Buffalo, Long Island, New York and Westchester. Restaurateurs from each community were present to highlight the importance of alcohol to go. Fleischut, prior to his court appearance, expressed similar sentiments at the Albany event, held at dp: An American Brasserie; its owner, Dominick Purnomo, has been a strong supporter of take-out alcohol since it was first permitted.

Congresswoman Carrie Woerner, whose district covers parts of Saratoga and Washington counties, spoke to dp alongside Fleischut, Purnomo and industry representatives including lobbyists and Tess Collins, owner of McGeary’s Pub in Albany.

“When someone orders enchiladas, they want a margarita, whether they eat it at the restaurant or take it home,” Woerner said. Observing that Saratoga Springs has more restaurants per capita than anywhere in the state except New York, she said, “Obviously the restaurant economy is something that matters a lot. “

Many liquor store owners have long opposed liquor on the go, saying allowing it would hurt their industry because they believe it essentially allows restaurants to become liquor stores. A frequently cited example, although it occurred rarely, was that of large supermarkets with in-house restaurants licensed to serve wine and spirits that set up shelves of wine and liquor for sale during the 15 months the takeout alcohol was allowed.

Wexler of the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association addressed some of these concerns in his testimony. For example, he said, in 2019, liquor stores sold three-quarters of the wines and spirits consumed in New York; during the pandemic, although restaurants could sell wine by the glass and bottle and alcohol as cocktails and by the bottle, liquor stores’ share increased further, to 85% of wine sales and spirits.

“Fears of liquor store devastation are not supported by the data,” Wexler said, adding, “Restaurant take-out beverage sales don’t cannibalize liquor store sales — they preserve sales. alcohol from restaurants.”

The campaign for alcohol to go is part of a campaign for broader reforms of the State Liquor Authority, which oversees alcohol at the manufacturing, wholesale and retail levels in New York under a set of regulations collectively known as the Liquor Control Act.

Paul Zuber, executive vice president of the Business Council of New York State, approvingly cited alcohol to go and Hochul’s efforts to streamline the application process for ALS liquor licenses in its prepared testimony to Senate and Assembly Committees. He said, “What we see with these initiatives…is an opportunity to reform archaic ABC laws.”

Noting that some of the ALS regulations have been in effect since the repeal of the ban nearly 90 years ago, Zuber said, “Society is changing, and so are consumer tastes and the way our consumers buy products. It’s time to modernize our ABC law to help create jobs both in the retail sector of the economy as well as within our New York State wine and distilled spirits producers. »

The latter sectors have felt left out of the current discussions on takeaway alcohol, which Hochul’s proposal appears to allow to be purchased only in bars and restaurants. By contrast, under the emergency provision introduced by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that ended last summer, tasting rooms affiliated with wineries, cider houses, distilleries and other manufacturers were also allowed to sell their products for take-out and delivery.

A point of pride for New York’s liquor industry is its “farm” producer category, which provides benefits to manufacturers who use only New York ingredients in their wine, beer, spirits, their cider and their mead. But under current law, only wineries can ship their products directly to consumers. This means, for example, that Altamont Vineyard & Winery in Altamont, which grows its own grapes, can sell its products online for home delivery, but consumers who wish to have products delivered from Albany-based Nine Pin Ciderworks , with apples sourced from Columbia County, must buy it at a retail store that offers delivery.

“Being able to ship directly to consumers would be great,” Albany Distilling Co. co-owner Rick Sicari said in an interview last month. Albany Distilling makes its spirits from corn, rye and barley grown exclusively in New York. Other injustices in Sicari’s eyes are that wineries, cider houses and meads are allowed to have up to five tasting rooms, called branches, but distilleries are limited to one, and excise taxes are many. higher for agricultural distillers in New York than for other producers. .

“These archaic laws not only hinder economic development, they hurt the consumer, whether through price or convenience,” Zuber of the Business Council said in his remarks to the hearing, adding, “The lack of reform hurts small businesses, and it hurts the ability to grow our New York wines and distilled spirits.The Business Council would ask that the Legislature and the Governor consider significant reform of the ABC Act.