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Lawmakers Push To Sell Alcohol In New York Movie Theaters

WAMC file photo

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed changing New York’s Alcoholic Beverage Control law to make it easier to allow alcohol sales at movie theaters. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports the proposal is gaining momentum.

The Democratic governor’s office says that under current law, New York movie theaters can only sell alcohol if they have full kitchens and tables inside screening rooms or if they hold a tavern license. 109th District State Assemblymember Pat Fahy, a Democrat, has been pushing for new legislation: she says the change would give craft producers more outlets and provide more revenue for theaters.    "It's another upstate economic development issue because we often, on our main streets in our small towns, let alone in our downtown areas, we have a lot of aging theatres and we need to allow them to compete, just as you're allowed to have a drink when you're at a play or a drink when you're in a restaurant, we would allow one drink while seeing a movie. And it really helps the craft beverage industry in upstate and helps these movie theaters compete, and keeping some beautiful old structures viable in and we have one right up the street here at the Madison Theater that's mostly been close the last few years."

The change would allow the sale of beer, wine, cider, mead and spirits. Under the proposal, adults with tickets to a movie rated PG-13 or higher would be able to buy one drink at a time. Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is on board:   "I have had the opportunity to visit families out of state and we often during the holidays, take the kids to the movies. Certainly, I have been there when they've had people sitting next to me having adult milkshakes or someone having a glass of wine. And it just goes very smoothly. And it's always been frustrating to me, when I talk to my family that we don't allow this New York. Why we have to be one of just a handful of states that have not made it legal to provide this in our own state. And what I focus on is the economic development challenges of our downtowns. We're trying to revitalize them. And many times a theater that may have been built have been built in the 1920s, is trying to come back to life, and this would be a great opportunity for them to have more revenue from concessions. And lastly, this would be a huge boost to our craft beverage industry where we've invested tremendous amount of money. Places like Nine Pin Cider and small places all over the state of New York are trying to find new markets."

Nine Pin Cider co-founder Alejandro del Peral  agrees the measure would open up new markets and help struggling downtown theaters.  "A good example would be the Crandell Theatre in Chatham, which is to small to add a big kitchen or cafe but would be a great spot to have a little bar and to have Nine Pin be served there as well as Chatham Brewing which is right across the street."

Peral says Nine Pin, which is a WAMC underwriter, already sells to Bow Tie Cinemas in Connecticut. Neighboring Massachusetts also allows alcohol sales in movie theaters. 

Bow Tie CEO Joe Masher is among those pushing to allow alcohol in New York movie theaters.  "It's an important amenity that our guests have been asking for for many years. I've been at the forefront of the fight for the past eight years to try to get legislation passed to allow alcohol to be served in theater auditoriums." 

Hochul added  "I sincerely hope the legislature will follow the governor's lead as he tried two years ago, and unfortunately it was bottled up with one Assembly member who refused to even let it come up for a vote. I think the time is right. Let's catch up with the rest of the states that are progressive."

That Assemblymember, Kenmore Democrat Robert Schimmenger , will not run for re-election this fall after serving out this term. The 42-year veteran legislator was not available for comment in time for broadcast.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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