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Another Voice: Liquor store lawsuit is not about blocking competition

By Thomas Edwards

As the statewide advocacy organization for retailers of all sizes in the wine and spirits industry, I want to clarify some clear misperceptions about the lawsuit recently filed by Premium Wine & Spirits against the State Liquor Authority (SLA) and a liquor store in the Buffalo area.

First, there have been comments that the lawsuit was filed because the owner is afraid of competition. This belief has no basis in fact.

When Addys Wine & Spirits first applied for a license at its former location, no one in the industry opposed it, including the owner of Premium. The original application satisfied all of the criteria that the SLA applies when reviewing a new application to open a liquor store.

One of the primary factors that state law requires in such a review is whether a geographic area is sufficiently served by existing liquor stores, including the proximity of the existing stores to the new proposed location – in other words, will the area become oversaturated if the SLA approves the license or relocation.

In this instance, the SLA ignored its own criteria. This area of Amherst already has more square footage of liquor stores serving it than any other area in Western New York.

There is a reason why there is not a liquor store on every street corner, and it has nothing to do with competition. Rather, it is because alcohol – specifically liquor and wine – is a highly regulated product. Upstate New York is not New York City, where it is common to see liquor stores operating within blocks of each other.

Approving the Addys application to allow it to not only move within a half-mile of Premium, but also to increase significantly in size, sets a slippery slope precedent that is a concern among liquor store owners of all sizes across upstate New York and should make other previous applicants question why their licenses were denied under far less questionable circumstances.

The New York State Liquor Store Association remains concerned about what appears to be Wegmans’ continued efforts to violate the spirit of state law.

The operator of Addys claims that Premium is “afraid” of competition. In reality, what Premium and other independently owned liquor stores are afraid of are the deep pockets of national grocery chains financially supporting this store and others across the state – which is directly against the clear policy and law of New York State.

Without the support of Wegmans this store would not have been in a position to even submit an application to move to a Wegmans shopping center and more than double its size. It’s easy to be brave and claim someone is afraid to compete against you when the deck is stacked in your favor.

The association of retailers that I proudly serve and am a part of is concerned about the SLA’s inconsistent application of the law and supports Premium’s challenge to this outlier decision.

Thomas Edwards is the president of the New York State Liquor Store Association.

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