‘At Rest’ bill needs to rest, permanently

Column by Ted Potrikus

‘At Rest’ bill needs
to rest, permanently

History will forever remember cocktails-to-go as one bright spot amid COVID’s Darkest Age. We might not have been able to dine out, but we could order take-out and our favorite beverage too complex to craft at home.

It’s not like Those Who Imbibe weren’t also giving plenty of business to retail liquor stores (mercifully deemed ‘essential’ from the start of the pandemic shut-down) and the wholesalers that serve them, but having the right ingredients on hand for that Moscow Mule or Appletini might not have been top-of-mind when we were worried about everything else.

When New York took steps earlier this year to allow restaurants to once more serve up a nice cocktail with your take-away dinner, retail liquor stores went suitably ballistic. I’m not taking sides here (although I defer
to the restaurateurs for whom drinks-to-go was a lifeline) and was unsurprised by the trite “this will doom small business” trope the liquor store lobby trotted out.

More often than not, though, it’s the wholesalers and distributors — the guys who have controlled New York’s retail liquor industry since the earliest post-Prohibition days — who hide behind the more loveable mom-and-pop shops to fiercely protect their turf. Wine in grocery stores in New York? Probably not in my lifetime — and that’d be a topic for about 10 more columns. From where I sit, they’d love to see New York’s ridiculously confining liquor laws stay right in the 1930s.

Big Liquor now has a real doozy teed up in the Capitol — they call it the ‘at rest’ bill. The measure, in short, would require alcoholic beverages imported into New York be first delivered to a licensed New York state wholesaler and maintained at a premises or warehouse operated by the wholesaler for a period of 24 hours.

Wait. What? That’s like telling the folks over at — oh, I don’t know —W.B. Mason or something like that, that if they’re going to ship a carton of printer paper into New York from their warehouse in Umpityump, Connecticut that it would have to first go to a licensed paper warehouse in New York and sit there for 24 hours before it could go to the store for sale.

Here’s what the Senate bill sponsor says in her memo: “Under current law a licensed wholesaler of wine or distilled spirits can distribute to any licensed retailer even if such shipment is coming from a warehouse located in another state.” Gasp! The horror!

Oh yes, says the sponsor’s memo. Some estimates show, she says, that “the enactment of an at-rest statute in New York State could create over 1,700 jobs and the creation of new warehousing facilities in New York State, generate millions in revenue and ensure that consumers are not getting counterfeit beverage alcohol.”

I’ve often worried about that counterfeit thing as I’ve cracked open a bottle of whatever. There’s no way I can trust the licensing agency in any state other than New York, right? Without Albany’s stamp of approval, nothing is legit, and let the buyer beware. And by letting that case of booze sit ‘at rest’ in a ‘licensed warehouse facility’ just over the New Jersey border, I’m going to rest far more comfortably knowing that it has passed every consumer protection test necessary to ensure that my Manhattan will taste just as good as if I bought it in, well, Manhattan.

Note, too, that reference to the state being able to ‘generate millions in revenue’ from this little piece of legislation. Guess where that comes from! You, the little guy! Surely those kind warehousers won’t just let that demonic fluid from out-of-state rest in its space for 24 hours for nothing.

The Albany Times-Union has done its usual fantastic investigatory work over the past few weeks noticing a slew of e-mail to Governor Hochul’s top staff from lobbyists pushing the at-rest bill; so far, the Governor looks to have resisted their entreaties for blessing a measure that is, right now, stuck in the state Legislature’s committees. That’s where this bill should rest, in peace, forever.

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