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Should alcoholic to-go drinks from restaurants become permanent?

A pandemic-era measure that helped keep a struggling hospitality industry afloat may become permanent under a policy proposal from Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Ms. Hochul highlighted her State of the State proposal to permanently legalize to-go drinks earlier this month, while announcing proposals to reinvigorate the State Liquor Authority and update state liquor laws. 

The temporary measure was first introduced under former governor Andrew Cuomo during the first year of the pandemic. 

Bunnii Buglione, general manager of Ellen’s on Front in Greenport, said she supports the initiative.

“To be completely frank, selling drinks is a really great way to pad a bill and to boost sales, and we’re all really, really hurting post-COVID,” she said. 

She pointed out that, even though restrictions are currently loosened, restaurants still can’t seat at the capacity they used to. Pandemic era measures like outdoor seating helped businesses survive.

“We wouldn’t have made it through without adapting and changing our business model,” she said. Ellen’s on Front had to change its menu to focus on more transportable food, for instance, only shifting back this January.

The downside of alcohol to-go, she acknowledged, is village law that doesn’t allow open container drinks in public. “There’s no way we can control that,” she said, even if the restaurant tapes the lids shut.

She said the restaurant would likely adapt its drinks menu if to-go alcohol was permanently legalized. 

Marc LaMaina, owner of Lucharitos with several North Fork locations, said the restaurant chain would transition back to the structure in place when to-drinks were legal before.

“We’re excited for the possibility of it becoming a real thing but we don’t have our hopes up,” he said.

The measure has met some opposition from the liquor store industry. The Metropolitan Package Store Association, which represents independent liquor retailers, criticized the governor’s proposal to permanently legalize to-go drinks in a statement.

“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 advocacy group said, citing a 35-50% loss in liquor store foot traffic and double-digit sales losses during the pandemic. “Essentially, we are being told there is no burden for us and, even if there is, just ‘take the hit.’ ”

The state legislature pushed to add billions of dollars to New York’s budget on Monday, potentially postponing all policy proposals until it’s adopted, including alcohol to go.