Small Business Saturday

There's no retail business in New York that's more heavily protected and regulated than wine and liquor. The state liquor authority has first and last word in licensing erstwhile merchants, and the authority makes its determination based on the input of other licensees in the area. If too many retailers make the case that your store will hurt their business, you can't open. Add to this a restriction on selling alcohol within 200 feet of a school or church, as well as restrictions on the number of licenses an individual or corporation can hold, and it's obvious that New York has a pretty heavily managed marketplace for wine and spirits. Did you know that liquor stores can't sell anything but alcohol, glassware, and bottle openers? No tonic water, no limes, no soda, no cocktail olives. An amendment to allow liquor stores to sell maraschino cherries died a lonely death in the state legislature.

The same architecture that manages competition among hand-selected retailers also makes it impossible for the giants of the industry—discounters like Bev Mo, Trader Joe's, Total Wine, etc.—to operate more than one store in New York state. Any one of these chains could destroy the delicate ecosystem of mom & pop stores that thrive in New York...the one Trader Joe's location in Manhattan casts a shadow all the way to Brooklyn. It's only by the grace of that selfsame liquor authority that any small wine shop stays in business.

So on Small Business Saturday, the retail "holiday" cowering at the feet of the sales orgy known as Black Friday, take a minute to think about decisions small and large that let small businesses grow. They're not all democratic, nor are they free market. But in the balance, they let entrepreneurs chase their dreams. Isn't that what America's all about?