Op-ed: New York City’s neighborhood wine and spirit shops are important to our community

Bensonhurst Wine and Liquors.
Bensonhurst Wine and Liquors.
File photo by Bess Adler

The holiday season is an important time for small businesses. For small entrepreneurs in the wine and spirits industry, November and December are critical. Whether you’re buying a gift or picking up some holiday cheer for a celebration, your local liquor store is there for you, and we take that responsibility seriously. We are here to help make your holiday merry and bright.

This year is more critical than the past few years. It’s a chance to recover the losses we experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although your local wine and spirits stores were considered essential businesses and did our best to serve you during those difficult times, we still suffered a significant toll, and many businesses are still struggling to get back on our feet. And now, despite some cause for optimism in a very unstable economy, big businesses are trying to take over and shut us down for good.

The big box, e-commerce juggernaut has taken over every retail sector and they have their eyes on your local wine and spirits shop too. Global, publicly-traded mega-corporations like Wal-Mart and Amazon along with Washington lobbying groups like the Distilled Spirits Council are using their money and political muscle to corner the market on alcohol and put local wine shops and liquor stores like mine out of business.

They are lobbying to break up the “three-tier system” that was designed to make sure no single stakeholder has too much power over the supply of alcoholic beverages. This system delivers a good product to consumers, and it delivers jobs and revenue to our state. For almost 100 years, New York State has maintained and adapted this system and as a result the ecosystem has thrived under a commonsense framework of checks and balances.

Manufacturers, distillers, vintners make the product, wholesalers and distributors ensure safe and secure delivery to licensed retailers. When it was first designed, the law recognized that local businesses that operated in the community had a clear stake in the wellbeing of those neighborhoods. They lived and worked in those communities and they made sure that those families and children were served and protected.

The big box monopolists use fancy terms and say they want to “disrupt” and “unlock” the industry, but the truth is that they want to own the entire supply chain from beginning to end. They want to destroy the system that has worked for New York’s businesses and our community for nearly a century. We have all seen what these companies do to local businesses, and we can’t let it continue to happen.

Dangerous, direct-to-consumer shipping of alcohol would be an entirely new way of doing business here in New York, with less oversight and fewer checks and balances. Fewer parties controlling a bigger piece of the pie creates more opportunity for collusion, corruption, price controls, counterfeiting, and smuggling. Unfortunately, if the industry is consolidated under a few global players, we won’t know about these dangers until it’s too late. Worse? Enabling shipping direct to your home makes it just one click away for teenagers to have Amazon delivering liquor for their house party. Can you imagine?

As a customer, you already have the option of delivery from local retailers like mine. And you know you can trust us because we’ve always served you. We deliver to our customers, but we use our own employees or a licensed third-party delivery service with ID-check training. Shipping is another thing altogether, and shipping from a company like Amazon would involve interstate sale or transport of product.

New York moms strongly oppose the potential loosening of our liquor laws. Fully 73 percent of them told a recent survey that direct-to-consumer alcohol shipping will lead to more alcohol in the hands of minors than ever before.

Changes to our system would devastate local economies. There are almost 4,000 wine and spirits retailers in our state. They are all under threat from this predatory attempt to consolidate control of the alcohol market. Together the entire system of wholesalers, distributors and Main Street retailers employs more than 50,000 people across our state. Changes to our laws would hit people up and down this line hard, while benefiting who exactly? Global tech profiteers and the Wall Street shareholders who own them.

This holiday season, as you’re gathered around the table enjoying a toast with family and friends, remember the other families who rely on your loyal patronage. Even during the pandemic we were there for you when you needed us, and we need your support now as the cloud of “disruption” in the name of policy continues to cast a shadow over our business. This season, shop small and say hello when you stop in for your favorite holiday spirit or bottle of wine. We appreciate you guys. Let’s continue to celebrate together for years to come.

Michael Correra owns Michael-Towne Wines & Spirits in Brooklyn, NY. He is executive director of the Metro Package Store Association.