It was 10 a.m. in a Bed-Stuy wine bar. When you’re the governor of New York, sometimes the jokes just write themselves.
“When I walked up here, I said, ‘Why isn’t it 5 o’clock?’” Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “Then I realized, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”
Hochul made a stop Wednesday morning at Therapy Wine Bar 2.0 on Malcolm X Boulevard hosting a kind of pep rally for the state’s still-struggling hospitality industry. The stop doubled as an opportunity to tout her plans to cut red tape for bar owners coming at a time when the state is poised to experience increased economic growth as COVID-19 rates subside.
She stood at a rostrum in front of wine coolers shielded by chrome gates, ticking off her proposal to allow bars and restaurants to serve to-go cocktails as well as a separate proposal to spend $2 million to hire 39 workers at the State Liquor Authority. Of those, 30 would be tasked with tackling a backlog of 3,700 pending applications for liquor licenses and events. That backlog has led to processing delays, drawing the ire of the bar and restaurant industry.
“This is transformative for an industry that was literally brought to its knees during the pandemic,” Hochul said. “We’re here in Bed-Stuy today to unleash a whole new era in this industry.”
Choosing Therapy as the location to stage some pro-industry boosterism was not a coincidence. It gave Hochul the chance to plug a bill she signed in December that allowed for temporary liquor licenses in New York City, which the Bed-Stuy wine bar is benefiting from as it awaits its full license approval.
But while bar and restaurant owners are on board with Hochul’s plans to help their industry, her push to permanently allow restaurants to sell cocktails and similar alcoholic beverages with to-go orders has met with stiff pushback from the state’s liquor store owners.
The Metro Package Store Association and the New York State Liquor Store Association, two of the lobbying organizations representing liquor stores at the Capitol, have raised numerous concerns about the measure and the effect it could have on their heavily regulated industry.
“The proposed legislation would take what remains of these small businesses, their regular customers, and hand them over to another industry that is not being compelled to follow the same burdensome regulations for nothing in return,” the Metro group wrote in a press release last month. “Essentially, we are being told there is no burden for us and, even if there is, just ‘take the hit.’”
Hochul included the to-go drinks proposal in her $216 billion state budget proposal, which she unveiled in January. At the news conference Wednesday, she called it one of the most popular proposals in her budget – though she noted the continued opposition, too.
“Yes, there has been opposition in the past,” Hochul said. “But I’m willing to take it to the people.”
Hochul and state lawmakers have until March 31 to pass a budget for the fiscal year that begins the next day.