It’s Time for New York to Update its Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws

By Sandra Jaquez | March 4, 2024

New York is renowned as one of the greatest cities in the world, in large part because of its thriving bar and restaurant scene. Yet, it is tremendously difficult to open and operate a small business in the city, let alone one in the hospitality industry, with its razor-thin margins and increasing regulatory landscape. As a restaurant owner working in Inwood for the past two decades as well as President of the New York State Latino Restaurant Bar & Lounge Association, I have seen firsthand how outdated laws can hinder the growth of small businesses and create an uphill battle for entrepreneurs.

In particular, the New York State Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) laws have for too long constrained restaurants, bars, and nightlife establishments to prohibition-era policies initially intended to curtail our industry. New York’s ABC laws are some of the most restrictive in the nation, causing arbitrary and unreasonable barriers for new and existing business owners. The complexity and rigidness of these laws often limit businesses’ ability to adapt to evolving consumer preferences, changing neighborhoods, and growth opportunities.

However, and thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. After months of review last year, the Commission to Study Reform of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws released a list of recommendations for legislative consideration. These suggested reforms address the longstanding issues that have challenged the hospitality industry, such as the 200 and 500-foot rules, which ultimately restrict new businesses in densely populated neighborhoods. As our city increasingly becomes a collection of mixed-use neighborhoods, it is critical that the ABC laws foster and support new businesses.

Governor Hochul has indicated her commitment to addressing these issues through a series of initial steps to modernize the ABC laws with the implementation of to-go cocktails and the expansion of Sunday sale hours. In her State of the State address and Fiscal Year 2025 Executive Budget, the Governor shared policy ideas that help support the hospitality industry by speeding up the State Liquor Authority’s liquor application approval timeline.

We must continue to build off the foundation set by the Governor. There are reasonable and practical proposals from the Commission that, if enacted, would present a transformative opportunity for business owners to thrive in a more dynamic and supportive regulatory environment. These changes include policies such as allowing bars and restaurants to buy directly from liquor retailers, eliminating the 200 and 500-foot laws, and expanding eligibility for temporary liquor licenses. With updated ABC laws, businesses will be able to provide greater services to their customers, and New York State will be fostering new businesses and jobs.

Governor Hochul’s proposal to update the ABC laws in New York offers a promising path forward for small business owners and has the potential to uncork a new era of opportunities for our hospitality establishments. New York’s restaurant, bars, and nightlife industry has the potential to be even greater than it is now, further adding to the cultural fabric of our city. Our hospitality businesses should all be given the tools they need to achieve their dreams, whether it be for the immigrant looking to bring their native cuisine to their new neighborhood or the established restaurateur hoping to expand their business. After a century of the current ABC laws, it is time for New York lawmakers to build on the foundation set by Governor Hochul to reform the ABC laws for the 21st century.

Sandra Jaquez is the President of the NYS Latino Restaurant Bar & Lounge Association and owner of Il Sole and Sa’Tacos in Inwood.