Bill would allow beer and wine sales in more movie theaters

Gazette photo by Thomas Giery Pudney
Sen. Diane Savino, at podium, sponsors a bill that would make it easier for smaller movie theaters to sell beer, wine and liquor in New York state. She says the move would also help promote New York craft beverages.

With New York positioning itself as a craft beverage producer, independent theater owners are urging the Legislature to allow alcohol sales in theaters across the state. The legislation (A.7188/S.5784) will help mom and pop theaters stay afloat and promote local craft beverage companies.

Theaters are currently allowed to serve alcohol, however they need to have either a tavern’s license or a full kitchen. For many small and independent operators this is not possible due to economic and physical constraints.

New York is one of 13 states that have yet to pass legislation allowing the sale of alcohol in movie theaters without a bar or kitchen. Should the law pass, operators will help promote local wines, beer, spirits and ciders.

“If this legislation doesn’t pass, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Ari Benmosche owner of the historic Lafayette Theater in Suffern, New York.

Benmosche, like many other theater owners, sometimes struggles to stay open. Should the legislation pass, he will gain an estimated $5 more from each of the 50,000 people who visit his theater each year. This money could be used for renovations to better compete with nearby big chain competitors.

Among the those in support of the bill is a competitor of Benmosche, George Patterson, senior vice president of food and beverage at AMC Entertainment. The mom and pop businesses aren’t the only ones affected by the bill. AMC sells alcohol in many theaters, but like many other theater owners, it does not have the means or the space to install a kitchen in every establishment. This means that many of their theaters within New York are missing out on an additional source of revenue.

The bill includes many regulations so alcohol does not become a disruption to movie goers. Safeguards written into the legislation require proper identification for those buying a drink, a one-drink limit per transaction, the sale of alcohol is limited to one hour before the first movie showing and one-hour after the last movie showing.

Alcoholic beverages will only allowed in PG-13, R and NC-17 films.

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office

The bill was originally included in Governor Cuomo’s 2017 Executive Budget plan and now resides in the Assembly Economic Development Committee and the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee.

With seven days left in the legislative session, National Association of Theatre Owners of New York President Joe Masher is hopeful that, after five years of fighting for it, the bill will finally become law.

“There are no more stupid laws than the ones that date back to prohibition,” said Senate sponsor Diane Savino, D-Staten Island. “You can go into a live theater and buy a drink but you can’t buy a drink in a movie theater. This has to change.”

The Assembly bill is sponsored by Joe Lentol, D-Brooklyn.