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Another round of debate over wine sales

ALBANY -- The lines are well formed, but once again some state legislators are pushing a bill that would legalize the sale of wine in grocery stores.

At a roundtable convened Monday by the measure's legislative sponsors -- State Sen. Tom O'Mara (R-Big Flats), and Assemb. Joe Morelle (D-Rochester) -- the vice chairman of Wegmans supermarkets argued with an East Greenbush liquor store owner about the bill.

"The majority of liquor stores will be severely hurt by this," said Beth Leonelli-Endres, owner of Vineyards Wine & Spirits. "The wine is what pays my rent . . . liquor is there for customer convenience."

She is affiliated with a coalition of liquor store owners that has for years blocked the legislation, arguing its members have located and developed their businesses based on an economic model that lets them sell only wine and liquor but makes them the sole place consumers can buy the products.

To change the law now would result in the closure of small businesses, Leonelli-Endres argued.

Representatives from the Business Council and Farm Bureau have endorsed the legislation, which they argued would stimulate growth among New York's wineries.

Paul Speranza, vice chairman of Rochester-based Wegmans, said it would create more than 250 "meaningful" jobs if his stores could sell wine.

"For years, the opposition has refused to come to the table," he charged. "Why is it fair that one group is not hurt and all of these other groups are hurt? Citizens of this state are treated equally, or should be treated equally."

When prompted, Leonelli-Endres suggested allowing liquor stores to sell beer also. The bill as drafted has offered other carrots: It would allow liquor store owners to open at multiple locations, sell directly to restaurants and bars and offer drink mixers and snack accoutrements.

The bill would generate quick cash for the state by charging licensing fees for stores that hope to sell wine -- as much as $350 million, Morelle estimated.

Speranza cited a grocer-funded study saying 6,000 jobs would be created if the wine sales were legalized, but it's unclear how that might be offset by potential job losses at liquor stores.

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