New York Has Crazy Wine Retailing Laws

Our favorite wine nerd with a Ph.D., Dr. Vino, is taking a closer look at New York’s crazy wine retailing laws. This post is especially fascinating to us, because we’re used to Chicago where the only liquor law is that you can’t sell alcohol too close to a library, or in a gas station, or to someone who is currently operating a car. And especially not to someone operating a car at a gas station that is really close to a library. From Dr. Vino:

Yes, it’s time for another edition of “New York’s crazy wine retailing laws!”

Law #1: Thou shalt not have more than one wine retail license in the state of New York. This is the fourth Whole Foods in Manhattan and the seventh in New York State. None of the NY stores sells wine (you never know what might happen if you could buy Sancerre the same time you buy Camembert), unlike Whole Foods stores in renegade states California, Illinois and Texas-where, I hasten to point out, levels of social unrest are no higher than in New York as a result of selling wine.

Admittedly, it can get a little crazy at Sam’s…—MEGHANN MARCO

Whole Foods Bowery: yes food, no wine [Dr.Vino]
(Photo: JasonJT)

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  1. magic8ball says:

    I don’t want to get anything started here, but I bet Utah’s liquor laws have more wackiness per capita than anybody else’s, even New York.

  2. Luxy says:

    Pfft, come to Pennsylvania for crazy liquor laws. My boyfriend is from Utah originally and says they’re much worse here.

  3. 44 in a Row says:

    New York has a rule that wine/liquor and beer are two separate licenses; a place that sells beer can’t sell wine/liquor, and vice versa. The result of all this is that supermarkets can’t sell wine/liquor, since it’s more important to them that they be able to sell beer. I have no idea what the reason behind this is, but I remember being incredibly shocked when I walked into a supermarket in California and saw a liquor aisle.

    In other fun news, it used to be illegal to sell alcohol before noon on a Sunday in New York (in reality, this was rarely enforced, and any CVS in Manhattan would happily sell you a case of Bud Light at 2am on Sunday). Then, last year, they changed it so that you couldn’t buy beer before 8am. I’m assuming this was due to strong protest by those who just can’t get through church without a drink or two.

  4. bringafajita says:

    In GA they lump beer and wine into the same category and make liquor it’s own category. So supermarkets sell beer and wine, but no liquor. I can’t figure out the logic behind that since it obviously has nothing to do with the % alcohol. It’s all immaterial on Sundays anyway when we can’t buy any of the above.

    Georgia, why, oh why won’t you let me be the heathen I want to be?

  5. LochNess says:

    In California, there actually are five different types of “liquor licenses”:

    On-premises “general”: all types of liquor
    On-premises “Beer/Wine”: self-explanatory
    On-premises “Beer”: self-explanator
    Off-premises “general”: all types of liquor, for consumption elsewhere
    Off-premises “Beer/Wine”

  6. tozmervo says:

    Tennessee’s licensing laws are similar (no thanks to the wine lobby). You won’t find wine or liquor in grocery stores here. And, like Georgia, liquor stores are closed on Sundays. Not only that, but you can’t import wine from out of state. So sorry, wine.com. We’ll let every other mom and pop industry be crushed by outsiders, but hands off our vineyards!

  7. missdona says:

    I’m a NY’er who spent a significant time in Chicago. The liquor in every drugstore was shocking to me. I still don’t think I can get my mind wrapped around it.

    And in PA– there’s something about only bars selling beer on Sundays. Bars sell, like, 6 packs of beer.

    Bizarre.

  8. Yoni K says:

    Beer in a CVS!! Craziness!
    I vote for the stupidest laws in Massachusetts.

    hell, we even voted down a recent ballot initiative that would have allowed grocery stores to sell wine (not even beer or liquor).

    I guess I should be thankful: as of a few years ago (2 or 3, i think), we are now able to buy anything on Sundays (i think its 12-6 only, but that may just be the operating hours of all the stores near me).

  9. msthe8r says:

    In Pennsylvania, you can ONLY buy liquor at a State Liquor Store. They are called “Wine and Spirits Shoppes” and that’s where you buy wine, as well. They are open on Sundays, which is relatively recent development. Some wineries are allowed to run retail shops off site, including in malls.

    Beer comes from beer distributors. It’s only available by the case or keg, though some distributors carry growlers individually. Beer distributors cannot sell beer on Sundays.
    Six packs come from bars or restaurants, mostly sandwich shops with beer licenses. An individual is limited to two six packs from a bar or restaurant. To get more, you have to go a beer distributor.

    We used to joke that possession of 18 beers was illegal. And the first time I walked into a grocery store with wine and beer (college) I almost fell over.

    In my current location, the closest liquor store is in…the Rite Aid!

  10. kerry says:

    @missdona: I grew up just outside of Chicago, where alcohol was only sold at the two liquor stores in town. When I went away to college in Massachusetts I was FLOORED to see alcohol in the grocery store. Just totally baffled. I eventually got used to it, but I felt very, very weird going into liquor-selling grocery stores for a couple years.
    I also had to get used to no liquor sales on Sunday (and the resulting road trips to New Hampshire for Sunday liquor), and signs saying “package store” instead of liquor store or bar.

  11. etinterrapax says:

    I hated in NY, having to go to a separate store for wine. I don’t like it here in MA, either. In NH, where I grew up, wine and beer are available in grocery stores, and you go to a state liquor store for the hard stuff. You can buy whatever on Sundays, as long as the store is open, and I’m not positive, but I think that state liquor stores are open on Sundays. Live free or die! In fairness, you can buy here on Sundays. We rejected the ballot initiative to sell wine in grocery stores, which irritated the hell out of me, but passed one a couple of years ago to allow liquor stores the option of opening on Sundays. Some still don’t open, but a few do.

    That said, I kind of miss blue laws. We can use times of the week that are designated periods of rest. It’d probably bother me if I weren’t used to it, but I am, and it doesn’t. What can’t wait until after noon on Sundays? It’s not like emergency rooms were affected by it.

  12. AdamJacobMuller says:

    Columbus Circle Whole Foods sells wine.

  13. juri squared says:

    YAY SAM’S.

    That is all.

  14. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    I’ve seen a place called Brew Thru in NC… basically you drive inside, tell the people what you want, they put it in your car, you pay, and that’s it! Beer and liquor acquired without even stepping out of the car.

  15. Amy Alkon says:

    And we wonder why the French have a much more sensible attitude toward alcohol. I’m not French — I was born and raised in suburban Detroit — but, like French kids, I was not prohibited alcohol when I was in my teens. In fact, my father would often offer me “a taste” when he was having a drink. Because alcohol wasn’t verboten, drinking never seemed like a big deal. I’m the only person I know who didn’t get drunk in college.

  16. FLConsumer says:

    FL laws see beer/wine as separate from the hard stuff. You’ll see beer & wine in many stores/restaurants and the beer/wine license is far easier to obtain than full liquor. NOW, FL does have some rather nasty beer laws, namely that it specifies the exact sizes (all in ounces) that can be sold in FL, thus we can’t get many import beers unless you know which restaurants/bars keep a good stock going in the back.

    @Amy Alkon: I’m with you on this Amy. I was raised in a household where the liquor cabinet was easily accessible to me from a very young age, as in it was stored in the bottom cabinets of the kitchen. My parents often gave me plenty of things to try when I was really young and to a young kid’s taste buds — alcohol sucks! As a result, I don’t drink much of the hard stuff. I can appreciate a good whiskey or brandy,but my weakness is for wines. A glass of wine at dinner is my usual taste. Even at that, sometimes it can take me until well after dinner to finish that single glass. Then again, the area & social circles I was raised in were rather European and I can’t ever recall a drinking age being enforced. I remember my high school friends coming down for spring break and being shocked at being able to order a drink with dinner and not have the waiter bat an eye.

    In high school and in college, I saw & heard people talking about getting drunk for the weekend (as in planning to) and never understood it. Maybe it is the “forbidden fruit” thinking. Regardless, my children *will* be raised with alcohol around the house and I have all intentions of letting them try it out at an early age…and realise it’s out there, but that there is more (like fine wine) to life.

  17. Snakeophelia says:

    Can I just say that the high point of my life so far was visiting Tucson, AZ a couple years ago? I had a headache and needed to have a cab driver take me to a Walgreen’s, which on a Sunday afternoon had a full liquor store attached to it and open for business. I was able to buy ibuprofen, lipstick, and Bailey’s all at one register. After years of living in SC (nothing open on Sundays!) and Pennsylvania (no liquor except from a state store!), this was a breath of fresh air.

  18. RandomHookup says:

    I went to college in a dry county…lots of trips to the county line where liquor stores popped up in high density in some bean field just past the sign. Use the drive-thru and remember to get a ‘go’ cup.

  19. etinterrapax says:

    @Amy Alkon: I agree (and am French). I grew up in a household where alcohol was used sensibly and never abused, and I never drank in high school or college. I’m still only a social drinker. I can’t even bring myself to have a glass of wine at the end of the day to relax. Too many calories and not enough family.

  20. kidgenius says:

    Well, I’m from AZ, and you can get liquor, beer, and wine in every grocery store, drug store, and gas station. Makes beer runs really convenient. You can also buy it anytime, except between the hours of 2AM-6AM (not entirely too sure about when it starts back up).

    Now, you guys lamenting not selling wine in a grocery store, it’s not all its cracked up to be. Most of the wine in the stores is very average. A dedicated wine store will have a much larger selection of wines (different varieties along with price points) and I would imagine would have a much smaller selection of the jugs, boxes, and bags of wine.

    The only good thing is that the supermarkets will often time put their wine on sale for up to $5 off a bottle, and some even sell their wine on clearance at 50% off.

    Speaking of which, has anyone ever bought one of those jugs of wine and drank any? It makes me shudder to think about it.

  21. SpecialK says:

    Suckers. I’m from Louisiana, where you can buy wine, beer AND whiskey at gas stations … and drive-thru liquor stands will serve you those things AND a froze margarita (just don’t take the lid off, then you’d be in violation of open container laws).

    One good thing about New York’s retardo wine laws? Trader Joe’s had to separate its liquor store from its grocery store. That way, when I want my Two-buck Chuck, I don’t have to put up with all the twatwaffles fighting over wasabi-corn-nuts or whatever the hell it is they serve in the other part of the store.

  22. ElizabethD says:

    Little old Rhode Island has been slow to shake off its blue laws. Still no liquor sales anywhere but in dedicated liquor stores (aka “package stores” or “the packy”). Not in supermarkets, not in pharmacies. It’s very annoying. Liquor-store owners are a powerful lobby in this small state, so I don’t see this changing any time soon.

    But… finally we can buy liquor (in liquor stores, natch) on Sundays. (Thanks, probably, to that same powerful liquor-store lobby.)

  23. Fortran says:

    Since everyone else is doing it, Colorado’s liquor store laws have an interesting things as well. Much like NY, Colorado has the one liquor license thing as well. What this has led to is the “superhuge” liquor stores. Since you can’t have multiple branches of your liquor store, you instead build the most gigantic one you can.

  24. swalve says:

    specialk- that’s funny because at my local Trader Joes, the twatwaffles are the ones holding the little cup of free coffee at their lips and clogging the booze aisle talking about $4 bottles of wine like they were collectibles. Hey idiots, I just want a bag of almonds and some cheese- get out of my way! “Oh Randall, look, it’s Dancing Elephant Syrah! I hear that’s really good, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the extra 30 cents. Oh never mind, just get this delightful Charles Shaw chardonnay.”

  25. matukonyc says:

    Why don’t they do what Costco does, namely, open a separate, but physically contiguous liquor store. That new monstrosity on Houston has enough room.

  26. Sideline Reporter says:

    in South Carolina if you order say, a vodka tonic at a bar, they open up one of those “nips” of Vodkas for the drink. Apparently they can’t have open containers so they have to use single servings, something like that. Bars also close earlier on saturday nights than other nights of the week so people will wake up for church the next day.

  27. unwritten07 says:

    In northern Wisconsin there are drive-up windows at some of the liquor stores. That way the deer hunters don’t have to leave Bambi strapped to the hood of the truck in a parking lot while they go into a store.

    It’s still a nice place to visit…

  28. QuirkyRachel says:

    Heh, I lived in Philly for a while and it drove me nuts because it was hard to buy alcohol. The whine stores were rare, had monopolies so their stock wasn’t great, and had odd hours. And, they can’t sell wine and hard liquor in the same store. Preparing for a simple dinner party was a pain.

  29. kerry says:

    @swalve: That’s been my TJ’s experience, too. Granted, there’s no shortage of people who take up too much space (“I know, I’ll put my cart perpendicular to the shelves and then stand next to it, so nobody can pass by! When someone comes I’ll ignore them if they say excuse me! Yeah!”), but most of the ones in the food aisles are hippies, not yuppies.

  30. GlassBottleLoveAffair says:

    Oh man I am so laughing at all of you with weird ass alcohol laws. You can’t buy a sixer ‘cept from a bar? You could have a steak and a Merlot, but a gin and tonic is just plain wrong? So weird, and just another reason for me not to move outta my little fly-over state! Think I’ll walk down to my grocery store and just stand in awe of all the freedom that is aisle 7…

  31. Clowntrigger says:

    SC liquor laws have changed recently. We are now a free pour state, no more minibottles. In Greenville, you can buy it at restaurants and in stores because the law was worded vaguely. I think you can also buy it a private clubs, but I’ve never been in one, so no first hand experience there.

  32. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    @matukonyc: That must be a Texas requirement.
    Here at all the Chicago area Costco’s, the booze, wine & beer are out on the floor.
    But in the grocery stores in Evanston, still home of the aging loons of the WCTU, the booze is in a separate section with its own checkout.

  33. karmaghost says:

    To supplement msthe8r’s comments on PA liquor and beer law wackiness, when you purchase items from a bottle shop and reach the limit, you’re allowed to go back in and buy more so long as you don’t have your previous purchase with you. However, you have to leave the beer you just bought outside a certain perimeter from the store, so many bottle shops actually paint lines on the sidewalk so you know where to set your purchase before returning.

    This is problematic in many ways, the most obvious of which is that in college towns where people often walk and don’t drive to the bottleshop, you have to leave the beer out in the open, where technically anybody could just walk by and carry it away. The beer distributors are fewer in number than the bottleshops and aren’t within walking distance. Plus, there’s the additional inconvenience of not being able to buy 6 or 12 packs at the distributor; if you want to try something new, or only want a certain amount of something, you have to go to the bottleshop or just buy mass quantities and hope for the best.

  34. kerry says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: There’s a grocery store in Evanston that sells booze? Other than Whole Foods (which doesn’t have a separate checkout)? The last time I went to a regular grocer in E-town it was the Jewel on Chicago ave, and I don’t remember them having booze at all.

  35. golgiapparatus says:

    Not allowed to sell alcohol to someone currently operating a car? PSH. There’s a drive-through liquor store down the street from me. Hooray for college towns in AZ.