Posted on | February 1, 2012
Written by | Paul Santelle
Exactly 10 days after most New Year’s parties had ended, a lingering hangover in the ongoing Direct Shipping battle was resurrected when the New Jersey Assembly passed legislation that would allow out-of-state wineries to flood our state with winery-to-consumer shipments. Unfortunately, the tragedy of this controversial issue may have also contributed to the sudden death of Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce that same night in the State House. Alex, along with his Republican Assembly members, were staging a courageous stand-off that day on our industry’s behalf, and after more than 15 hours of exchanges with the Assembly Democrats and the Senate President, they were told by the Governor’s Counsel to accept the deal on the table. Shortly after the order to stand down, the Minority Leader collapsed and then died in our State House.
Loss of An Industry Protector
There is no question, in my mind, that our industry is indebted to the late Minority Leader, who understood small business values as well as the need for our industry to have a voice through a supporter in our State Legislature. I was in contact with Alex most of that day. I can assure everyone reading this article that he did everything within his ability to always represent what was in our industry’s best interest.
The combination of the tragic loss of Assembly Minority Leader DeCroce as well as the leadership change from Assembly Majority Leader, Joseph Cryan, should be all you need to know when I tell you that this is our industry’s “WAKE-UP CALL!” Between the new leadership alignment in the Assemblyand the carryover of leadership in the Senate, we are in a very vulnerable place at this most critical time. One foot has dropped relating to the Direct Shipping battle; and the other foot has already been raised. We are preparing to defend our industry from an all-out assault by new Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, who will be by far the most vocal proponent of the two-license limitation challenge in our State’s 215th Legislature. Regardless of the above, the NJLSA will continue to lead the call to arms and to protect and defend our industry whenever and wherever the battle lines are drawn.
Time to Unite
If you are a retailer who did NOT come down to Trenton to defend your industry and your livelihood on January 9th—your help would have made a difference. Roughly 50 people representing our state’s wineries were at the State House from 9:00 am to past 11:00 pm when the final vote was taken. On our side, Fedway sent a large contingent from their company to help bolster the less than a hundred retailers who showed up earlier in the day, but only a core group of about 25+ AARA members stayed until the end. Some even told me how they had closed their stores that day to come to Trenton and that they were expecting to see more retailers there.
I would like to tell all of those Fedway supporters and retailers who came: Everyone in our industry is grateful and indebted to you. As far as everyone else, all I can say is that when the two-license bill goes up for a vote in the last week of June, I hope that you will make the time and effort to come to Trenton. Anything less than 500 retailers stand standing in the balcony of the Assembly and Senate Rotunda’s will not be enough to send the message we need to send to the people voting on the floor below us! I had a lot of Legislators asking me on January 9th: “Where are all the retailers?” In the end, the supporters for wineries vs. the number of supporters for retailers in the Assembly Rotunda were about equal. Our Legislators knew that there are only about 40 licensed wineries in NJ compared to almost 2,000 package stores licensed in NJ.
The Direct Shipping battle has been lost and the damage from the inevitable flow of out-of-state shipments will take its toll. If you care about the future of your business, NOW IS THE TIME to support the NJLSA. Your contributions will be needed to fight the upcoming two-license challenge. I know there are still many of you on the sidelines that feel that your voice will not make a difference, but if you are not a member of the NJLSA, please fill out the application on the opposite page and send it in with your dues! All of the Trustees as well as the Board of Directors of the NJLSA send our sincerest condolences to the family of Alex DeCroce—he will be missed by all!