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Beer and wine can join popcorn and soda on movie theater menus

Two men clinking green beer bottles while sitting

Movie theaters in New York will be allowed to add beer and wine to their concessions for consumption by customers watching a film, the State Liquor Authority ruled Wednesday by unanimous vote.

Alcohol sales have long been standard at concerts and playhouses and other live entertainment venues, but movie theaters were limited to either selling beer and wine for consumption in a designated area of their lobbies or be licensed as a restaurant.

In giving its approval, the Liquor Authority board considered an argument from the National Association of Movie Theatre Owners, a trade organization comprised of major theater chains and independent owners, that their members should have the same privileges as other businesses to sell beer and wine as an incidental part of their operations.

“The primary business of a motion picture theatre is not the sale of alcohol, but rather to provide a moviegoing experience and food concessions,” the organization’s lawyer, Theresa Russo, wrote in her request for a ruling on the matter. “The sale of alcohol is ancillary for those functions and not the prime source of revenue.”

The policy change takes effect immediately, according to the Liquor Authority, but theaters not currently listed for beer and wine sales will need to apply for a license. That process can take months.

Movie theaters had long been lobbying for a change in the rules, but word of the development came as a surprise to many theater owners.

David Andreatta is the editor of CITY. He joined the WXXI family in 2019 after 11 years with the Democrat and Chronicle, where he was a news columnist and investigative reporter known for covering a range of topics, from the deadly serious to the cheeky.
Daniel J. Kushner is arts editor of CITY magazine, which works in partnership with WXXI News. He began writing for CITY in 2015 as a contributing writer, before joining the staff full-time in 2018.