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Governor proposes changes to ‘blue laws’


Consumers could soon be allowed to purchase alcohol within 200 feet of a school or church — even on a Sunday morning — if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to loosen certain Prohibition-era “blue laws” is approved. 

The governor’s plan has drawn mixed reaction from local government officials and professionals in the hospitality industry.

“The governor has a clear vision for the economic future of New York. Unfortunately, that future is built around gambling and drinking,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said in an email. “On the specific proposals, I would be vehemently opposed to reducing the 200-foot minimum around schools and churches, particularly from schools. The minimum should be increased, not decreased.”

The blue laws, established in 1934 after the repeal of Prohibition, require bars or places that sell alcohol to be located at least 200 feet away from a church or school. For many years, the laws also banned alcohol sales on Sunday and they still prohibit restaurants and bars from serving patrons before noon on Sunday.

The proposed law would require businesses to obtain a special state permit allowing them to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption between 8 a.m. and noon on Sunday.

Another change would give the State Liquor Authority the discretion to issue a full liquor license to an establishment within 200 feet of a church or school.

The distance restriction came into play in Riverhead about 15 years ago when some restaurant owners opposed a church proposed for downtown for fear it would make it difficult for them to get a liquor license.

The entrance to the building that now houses PeraBell Food Bar is said to have been set back from the sidewalk so the front door would meet the required 200-foot setback from the church across the street.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said last week that he wasn’t familiar with the governor’s proposal but added, “I like the blue laws.”

Other proposals made by the governor last week include reducing paperwork for craft manufacturers by allowing businesses with multiple licenses — for instance, wine and craft beer — to combine them and allowing wine to be sold in growlers, like craft beer and hard cider.

Steve Bate, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, said the proposal to allow on-premises sales on Sunday mornings will improve sales in general, but probably won’t affect wineries much because they are already permitted to open their tasting rooms as early as 10 a.m. on Sundays.

He said wineries would, however, benefit from the ability to sell wine in growlers.

“Customers who buy and consume wine at wineries and don’t finish it could then take it away in a growler,” he said.

Rich Vandenburgh, co-owner of Greenport Harbor Brewing Co., said the governor’s proposals don’t really affect the retail side of his business but can affect it in other ways.

“We’ve been at festivals that start at 10 a.m. and we’ve had people coming up to us looking to buy beer and we can’t sell it to them until noon,” he said.

For the most part, they don’t do much business before noon on Sundays anyway, Mr. Vandenburgh said.

Andy Calimano of Starfish Junction Productions, which runs a number of festivals, including the “Pour the Core” hard cider festival and the Long Island Potato Festival in Calverton, had a similar response.

“Most of our events are on Saturday so people can enjoy Sunday and relax,” Mr. Calimano said.

One of the state’s rationales for proposing to allow on-premises Sunday morning sales arose when the Buffalo Bills played a game in England last season, which meant the game started around 8 a.m. in New York.

People wanted to watch the game at their favorite bars, which couldn’t sell alcohol until noon.

Mr. Calimano said many bars have enormous TV screens or multiple screens with a different NFL game on each. European soccer games are also shown on Sunday mornings in New York, he said.

Steve Wirth, the owner of Digger’s in Riverhead, said people wanted to come to his restaurant to watch the Bills game on their computers, since that game was broadcast only online.

But Mr. Wirth doesn’t think Sunday morning alcohol sales will benefit him much.

“We open at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, so that half-hour isn’t going to make that big of a deal,” he said. “Maybe if we considered doing some sort of brunch that included mimosas or Bloody Marys, it may be worth doing early. But we’re more of a Friday night, Saturday night destination … ”

Mr. Wirth said he might consider opening earlier on Sunday if the proposed law passes.

Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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