You don't have to be an economist to know that upstate New York's economy is struggling. All you have to do is walk down our streets, duck into our coffee shops or turn on the local news to know people are hurting. When times are tough, we need to do everything possible to help our small businesses grow and create new well-paying jobs.
One way to help New York's upstate economy get back on its feet is to get rid of New York's Prohibition-era laws that prevent consumers from buying wine in grocery stores. Nearly 60 percent of New Yorkers consistently say they want our leaders in Albany to pass this common-sense proposal that would create thousands of jobs for New Yorkers.
If our elected leaders passed this plan, our wineries, grape growers and related industries would quickly benefit greatly from new markets to sell their wonderful products. While New York ranks fourth in wine production, we rank only 11th in wine sales -- a disappointingly low ranking for the amount of wine we produce. According to Wine & Vines, a leading trade magazine, the low ranking in wine sales was, "probably because of the state's unusually restrictive regulations, which prohibit wine sales in supermarkets."
This unnecessary regulation starves one of New York's growing and thriving industries, and a major source of small business employment. In tough times, we need less regulation on small businesses like wineries, not more.
When other states have allowed consumers to buy wine in grocery stores, consumers have responded by buying more wine. When Washington State began selling wine in grocery stores, wine sales jumped 53 percent. In 1985, when Iowa began selling wine to consumers in grocery stores, wine sales skyrocketed 80 percent. With the economy sputtering, a boost in sales would make a huge difference for small businesses.
New Yorkers from every region of the state and from all parties understand the benefits of this proposal -- that's why they overwhelmingly want the choice to buy wine in grocery stores. A recent poll by Siena found that nearly 60 percent of New Yorkers support the option to buy wine in grocery stores. Getting nearly 60 percent of New Yorkers -- of all political stripes, ages and locations -- to agree on anything is close to impossible, but they are united in their desire to lift restrictions on small business and consumers. Simply put, New Yorkers know a good deal when they see one, and selling wine in grocery stores is a good deal.
But like many good ideas, this one has been stalled by special interests in Albany. The big liquor lobby has spent vast sums of money killing this proposal in the halls of the Capitol.
But with a new governor, who has pledged to stand up to the special interests, and a tough economy, this is the year for our elected officials to stand up for our small businesses and consumers and allow New Yorkers to buy wine in grocery stores.
Susan Hayes co-owns Miles Wine Cellars in Himrod.