ALBANY (TNS) — Amid the rush to finish the state budget, navigate scandals surrounding Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and chart a path forward in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, a few state legislators are trying to keep at least some attention focused on continuing the sale of takeout alcohol from restaurants.
”I’ve had owners tell me this has helped keep the doors open during the pandemic. It’s that important,” said Assemblyman Pat Fahy, D-Albany.
Fahy is sponsor of a bill at the committee stage in the Assembly that would allow, for two years after the end of the state’s pandemic-related disaster emergency, restaurants and bars to offer takeout and delivery of any alcoholic beverage they are permitted by their current liquor license to sell for on-premises consumption.
One of the groups most opposed to alcohol takeout by restaurants, the New York State Liquor Store Association, indicates willingness to support such a law if some of its concerns are addressed.
Prior to March 16, 2020, the day bars and dining rooms statewide were ordered closed by Cuomo during the initial wave of the pandemic, restaurants could sell only beer for takeout. Unfinished wine purchased with a meal could be taken home in a sealed bag, but the sale by restaurants of wine by the bottle or glass, cocktails or spirits by the bottle were all against the law.
Cuomo changed that last March 17 with an executive order that has been renewed every 30 days. The most recent expires March 28.
Given that Cuomo’s expansive emergency powers were stripped by the Legislature last week, advocates of continued alcohol takeout fear the renewal won’t be as easy as it was the last 11 times. The new law requires Cuomo to submit new executive orders, or existing measures he wishes to continue, to the Legislature and affected local communities, which then have five days to comment and request changes.
”It’s our stance that (alcohol takeout) should be continued,” said Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association.
Ideally, Wexler said, he would like to see some version of Fahy’s bill passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law, but he does not expect that to happen before the March 28 expiration of the current executive order. Nor does Fahy.
”With everything that’s going on already, and with the budget on top of that, I think it’s likely we’ll just push it out for another 30 days and deal with it next month,” said Fahy.
The extension, Fahy and Wexler said, would give them time to work behind the scenes with parties on both sides of the issue and in the state Senate, where a similar bill is stalled in committee. Wexler said it is his understanding that the bill hasn’t progressed in the Senate because of opposition from liquor stores.
Stefan Kalogridis, board president of the state liquor store association, said, “We’re all for the law to be passed. We know it helps restaurants.”
But, said Kalogridis, who owns Colvin Wine Merchants in Albany, his members want restrictions put in place that would prevent restaurants from essentially acting as liquor stores.
”We want people to be able to get margaritas to go with their meals,” he said, adding, “But if somebody can come in, buy a bag of chips and bottle of Grey Goose (vodka), that’s not fair to us.”
The association is in favor of a version of the takeout-alcohol law that permits the sale of cocktails and individual servings of wine, Kalogridis said. It might accept continuing sales of bottles of wine but strongly opposes sales of bottles of spirits becoming law, he said.
”I can be flexible on this,” said Fahy. She said she is sympathetic to liquor stores’ concerns but noted that, unlike restaurants, such stores thrived during the pandemic.
”Their sales skyrocketed while restaurants were suffering so badly,” said Fahy.