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Hochul’s new measures to help restaurants and bars applauded by business community

Gov. would legalize to-go drinks, streamline liquor license application process

March 2, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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New measures announced Wednesday by Gov. Kathy Hochul to support the recovery of the state’s restaurants and bars — including a proposal to permanently legalize to-go drinks —were roundly applauded by the business community, which had pushed for many of these reforms during the COVID pandemic.

The governor highlighted these proposals and actions at an event at Therapy Wine Bar 2.0 at 260 Malcolm X Blvd. in Brooklyn, a venue that was able to open thanks to a law signed by the governor in December to allow for temporary permits to serve alcohol.

“We owe it to our small businesses to provide them with the resources and regulatory framework they need to grow and thrive, which is why it’s important that we reform and modernize the State Liquor Authority. This is just one of several steps we are taking to help small businesses come back from the pandemic stronger than ever before,” Hochul said.

The governor’s budget also proposes, as a key part of her Billion Dollar Rescue Plan for small businesses, permanently bringing back to-go drinks for restaurants. “This policy provided a vital economic lifeline to our bar and restaurant industry during the pandemic, and re-establishing it, under proper limitations, will help to ensure our bars and restaurants get back on their feet and thrive,” a statement from the Governor’s Office said. 

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Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. Photo courtesy of NYC Hospitality Alliance

Hochul has also proposed adding $2 million in spending to the SLA’s budget to include the hiring of over 30 full-time employees. Flat and reduced budget and workforce numbers over the years have had an impact on the SLA’s efforts to significantly reduce processing times — which currently stand at 20-26 weeks. 

A bar or restaurant without a temporary operating permit must either wait for its license before opening, or open without alcoholic beverage service, which represents as much as a third of its revenue. “Giving these months back to the businesses will allow them to generate revenue and hire staff sooner to better serve their neighbors and communities,” the statement added.       

Finally, Hochul’s budget proposes cutting red tape to expedite the application process by eliminating burdensome and over-inclusive requirements currently required by law for applicants. Extensive review by the SLA of licensing procedures determined time-consuming requirements, such as citizenship documentation and requiring financial documents and personal information from minority stakeholders, provide little value in licensing decisions and public health and safety, she said.   

Part of the effort to streamline the SLA also includes computerization of the licensing and compliance databases. “The current process requires mailing paper applications to the SLA, then scanning and logging, before they can be sent to an examiner for review,” the statement said.

These proposed changes add to reforms that have already taken place. For example, on Dec. 21, 2021, Hochul signed the aforementioned bill  allowing new restaurants, bars and grocery stores in New York City to be eligible for a temporary operating permit for the first time. On Jan. 19, 2022, the SLA issued a ruling allowing movie theaters, another industry devastated by the pandemic, to apply for a license to serve beer and wine to adult patrons.

Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, commented, “The governor’s actions to speed up State Liquor Authority licensing processes and her strong support for permanently re-instating the popular “drinks-to-go” program will inspire new restaurants and bars to open sooner amid vacant storefronts in our communities and give existing businesses still reeling from the economic impacts of COVID-19 critical opportunities to recoup their losses and restore jobs in the industry.”

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said, 

“New York’s restaurant industry has been devastated by the pandemic. That’s why smart policy like the temporary liquor license law is helping small businesses open much faster while creating new jobs, and why it’s necessary to reinstate the popular drinks-to-go policy that provides struggling businesses an important revenue stream while giving New Yorkers what they want, which is wine and cocktails for takeout and delivery from their favorite restaurants and bars.” 

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