A challenge to a law mandating that wine and liquor stores in Dutchess County must close by 7 pm on weekdays - with more limitations on select major holidays - has advanced twice through the Dutchess County Legislature by a wide majority. The new law proposes that the allowed hours be extended to 9 pm on weekdays and on select major holidays. The first vote of approval of extending open hours occurred on April 8, 2019 and was 18-6. That vote was vetoed by County Executive Marcus Molinaro. Tonight, on Monday, May 13, 2019, the Dutchess County Legislators met again to vote to override that veto, and did so with a vote of 19-5.
This vote allows the proposed open hours extension to go before the State Liquor Authority, who will hold a Public Comment period, and then make their final decision.
This law has been challenged before but never passed. Here’s a look at the twists and turns this particular issue has taken so far over the years:
What Is The Backstory?
Current Allowed Open Hours For Wine and Liquor Stores
9 am to 7 pm
9 am to 10 am
New Year's, Memorial, Independence, Labor, and Thanksgiving Day (set your alarm!)
9 am to 10 pm
The Day Before Thanksgiving, December 18th – 24th, and New Year's Eve
Proposed Extended Open Hours
9 am to 9 pm
9 am to 9 pm
New Year's, Memorial, Independence, Labor, and Thanksgiving days, and on the day before Thanksgiving, December 18th - 24th and New Year's Eve
Wine and liquor stores in Dutchess County have had to operate within shorter open hours than equivalent shops surrounding counties for years. The closing time is 7 pm, and during some holidays such as New Year's, Memorial, Independence, Labor, and Thanksgiving Day, they are allowed to be open for one hour, from 9 am to 10 am (set your alarm!).
Did Beacon Wine and Liquor Stores Ever Challenge The 7 pm Close Time, That They Now Call “Restrictive“?
The law was challenged by county legislators. In 2016, then-Dutchess County Legislator Jerry Landisi tried to get the open hours extended. The City of Beacon signed a Resolution (aka a law that says that they support something, so that it’s super official and has votes of council people). Mayor Casale backed it then, and continues to back it today.
During The 2016 Challenge, No Vote Happened. Some Stores Opposed The Extension.
“[The resolution proposing the extended hours] never made it out of committee,” says current Dutchess County Legislator, Frits Zernike, and author of the latest attempt to extend the open hours to 9 pm. “That seems to be because liquor store owners up county, in Poughkeepsie and beyond, are fearful of what expanded hours would mean. As they see it, they'd have to stay open later, never seeing their families, and face the certain prospect of being robbed after dark.“
In an email interview with A Little Beacon Blog, Mei Ying So, of Artisan Wine Shop in Beacon, recalled the last time the law was challenged: “We have never been contacted when legislation regarding extending operating hours was coming up before the committee in years past. The last time this came before the committee, it was defeated in committee and it was only through local media that we found out after the fact that it had even happened.”
Why Would A Store Oppose The Open Hours Extension?
Business owners in opposition feared that if the open hours were extended, that the shop would be required to stay open longer. However, this rule change would simply allow businesses to stay open later; it is not a mandate that the business must stay open until the latest permitted closing time. Some shop owners have voiced concerns that if a neighboring business is open, then they will lose business. Such is another example of fears of business competition potentially being written into law, which we are seeing possibly happen between the City of Beacon and prepared food vendors during the Beacon Farmers Market yearly lease negotiation.
In their own words, here are excerpts of some letters of opposition submitted during the course of 2014-2016:
Poughkeepsie Wine & Liquor Inc. wrote in, stating: “I want it to be known that I am against the extension of hours that we can be open in Dutchess County. We are a small business with a limited number of employees who work long hours already and who need some time with their families, especially on holidays and after work. Staying open later in the evening could also be a danger to our safety since we are small independent stores.”
Cotter’s Wine and Liquor Store, in Pleasant Valley, wrote in: “I am opposed to opening on New Year’s, Memorial, Independence, Labor and Thanksgiving days. People plan for holiday parties. Those days are our holidays too and we want to spend them with our families. I am also opposed to extended hours year round. They do not equate to increased income, but rather to increased expenses. Before proposing any such legislation, a poll of all liquor stores should have been taken.”
Said Charel’s Liquors in Lagrangeville, N.Y. “I need the members to understand that we know this is a choice to open on holidays and extend hours, but you are forcing our hand. You will be taking business away from us that would just come back to us the next day. The law to allow stores to open on Sundays has done nothing but take away from family time for our business. It has simply spread our sales out that we would have made on Saturday and Monday.”
Family time was the theme of other letters.
This Time Around, Petitions Were Put Forth By Store Owners In Favor Of Hours Extension, In Addition To Opposition
In March of 2019, stores in the Beacon area put out petitions for signatures. Says Mei of Artisan Wine: “We (four stores in all - Artisan Wine Shop, Pioneer Wine & Liquor, Beacon Wine Shoppe, and Boutique Wines, Spirits and Ciders in Fishkill) collected over 1,000 signatures from consumers, all taxpayers, most are residents. Hundreds of emails and Facebook messages in support were sent to the Legislature. And the legislators themselves talked to many of the stores in their districts. Legislator Frits Zernike did a lot of leg work to inform stores as well, months ago.”
Supporters showed up at the Dutchess County Legislature meeting about it on Thursday, April 4 (watch it here), which would be a time to officially ask for the vote on Monday, April 8, to ask the State Liquor Authority to extend the hours.
Who spoke in support?
According to Mei, who attended that meeting: “There were nine people speaking in support of the legislation: from Artisan Wine Shop, Mei Ying So, Tim Buzinski and Sam Lozoff; Kitty Sherpa, co-owner of Beacon Natural Market (she also read a letter in support from Wineology in Pawling); Jessica Gonzalez, Beacon resident and well-known, award-winning bartender; Hal Newell, owner of Harker House Wine & Spirits in Clinton Corners; Paige Fiori, co-owner of Boutique Wines, Spirits and Ciders in Fishkill, and her husband; and one of Paige's customers.”
Beacon’s Mayor Casale attended to voice his support for the hours extension as well.
Who spoke against?
Stores speaking against included Arlington Wine in Poughkeepsie, Southside in Poughkeepsie, some stores in Hyde Park, and a speaker who a customer of one of the Hyde Park store owners. You can watch the whole April 8 session here, where the Public Comments start at minute 35.
Legislator Zernike wrote into the 2019 resolution a recommendation about how competition should be handled: “Concerns about crime, lost or increased business and revenue, as well as quality of life issues arising from decisions regarding hours of operation are best resolved by individual business owners, rather than subject to legislative regulation or edict.”
Voting Round 1 Results: 18-6; Which Is Vetoed By County Executive Marcus Molinaro
After hearing from the public who traveled from several areas of Dutchess County to attend, the Dutchess County Legislature voted 18-6 In favor of hours extension, which would move along the law change to the State Liquor Authority for their final vote.
The Legislature’s vote must go before the County Executive Marcus Molinaro to approve or veto. In a letter of support for the hours extension, the County Executive stated that “Restrictive State policies and outdated laws governing this industry have created an uneven playing field that should be addressed. Further, in may ways, the State Liquor Authority remains an institution rooted in the past, unable to keep up with the rapidly changing market, local needs, and the concerns of the State’s and Dutchess County’s residents. A better system would devolve authority and allow local municipalities with their zoning regulations to regulate the retail sale of wine and liquor for off-premises consumption. It is befuddling, at best, as to why New York has maintained this Prohibition-era regime, and I do not know how this County became the last in the state to enable extended hours of operation.”
With that letter of support, Molinaro vetoed the resolution, stating that it needed more time for public comment and awareness to mayors and supervisors.
Dutchess County Legislature Overrides Molinaro’s Veto 19-5
Back to this past Monday, May 13, 2019, weeks after that veto. The Dutchess County Legislature met again to acquire enough votes to override the veto, which they did. The resolution will now proceed to the State Liquor Authority, to open up for Public Comment once again, and then the final decision will be made.