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Alcohol to-go extension stalled as legislative session ends

Karen DeWitt
Scott Wexler, with the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, speaks in favor of extending alcohol-to-go, outside the state Capitol on June 10, 2021

New York lawmakers wapped up the legislative session without extending alcohol to-go at restaurants and bars. Restaurant and tavern owners, who are still struggling financially, expressed their disappointment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed restaurants and bars to offer alcoholic beverages to go along with take out food orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has extended that executive order several times.

Restaurants and tavern owners, who gathered outside the Capitol for some last minute lobbying, say it’s been a lifeline and allowed them to increase sales and add staff as they struggle to come back from pandemic shutdowns.

“We are not in any way shape or form back to our pre pandemic levels,” said Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York Restaurant Association. She added that the industry has lost billions of dollars and thousands of jobs since March 2020.

“Alcohol- to-go helps our restaurants, it helps their sales,” she said.

Scott Wexler with the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association blames opposition from the liquor industry and liquor stores.

“The liquor store industry has operated like a protection racket for generations,” said Wexler, who added that some of the state’s liquor laws have not changed substantially since 1935, shortly after prohibition ended.

“(They are) trying to preserve the prohibition era rules that freeze out competition,” he said.

The Senate and Assembly have separate bills that would extend the alcohol to-go rule permanently, or with a one year sunset provision. But the houses did not plan to act on them or try to agree on one measure before the session ended.

The liquor industry and liquor stores have not commented publicly on the bill. The restaurant and bar owners also say they are losing the argument because the Capitol remains closed to the public, even though Cuomo has announced reopening for sports venues and theaters. They say that hampers them from getting their message directly to lawmakers.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.