Publisher's Note: A great week
By Jody Reese
January’s last week will be a great week for wine lovers. It’s wine week centered around the Easter Seals’ Winter Wine Spectacular Jan. 29 (see our story starting on page 10).
Easter Seals’ wine gala and the growing number of events around it have really demonstrated that New Hampshire has a vibrant wine scene. Last year Michael Mondavi, son of Napa wine pioneer Robert Mondavi, was here as were cult favorites Bryan Page and Mark Neal (and they will be again this year).
The state-run stores sell most of the wine and all of the hard alcohol in New Hampshire. This has created quite a windfall for the state government. The stores produce profits in excess of $100 million a year, but according to state officials that’s likely as good as it’s going to get. So the New Hampshire Liquor Commission has been looking at other ways to make money, including allowing grocery stores to sell hard alcohol.
That seems like a good solution. As it is now, there are 77 state-run stores, but that doesn’t come close to the number of grocery stores in the state. Adding them will make it more convenient and add to sales.
This proposed change is a good idea, but it needs to go further and extend to restaurants and bars.
As it is now, bars and restaurants face some odd restrictions on food sales and advertising. Both need to go.
Alcohol is not to be feared. It’s not a sin to drink. If adults in New Hampshire aren’t required to wear seat belts, why does the state suddenly become interested in where we consume alcohol and how we hear about it? But it is.
Save a very few examples, bars must sell more than $75,000 worth of food a year to sell alcohol. This makes it more expensive to open a bar because you’ve got to include a kitchen. More than the expense, it’s just plain silly. What interest does the state have — other than collecting taxes — in where alcohol is served? If it’s OK for corner markets to sell wine and beer — and soon enough hard alcohol, why not let bars be bars and sell booze without food restrictions? The commission, which is in charge of enforcement, must spend time making sure bars follow these rules. That’s time that could go to reducing underage drinking.
On top of that, bars and restaurants are not allowed to advertise “ladies’ nights” and “happy hour.” In reality that means they can’t advertise any sales or discounts on alcoholic drinks. Again, this is another thing that takes away from commission personnel spending time enforcing drinking age limits. It’s also quite insulting to New Hampshire residents. It’s OK for grocery stores and the state to advertise alcohol specials, but not bars? What’s the difference between drinking at home and drinking in bars/restaurants?
We’re celebrating wine this month. It’s a wonderful product if consumed in moderation. I think it’s time to simplify and adjust our state laws to reflect that the days of treating alcohol as a public enemy are long gone. It’s a revenue source and a source of great fun for the many wine and spirits lovers who will gather later this month at the Radisson in Manchester. Let’s leave it at that.