Store owners face challenge of cigarette sales fees

By Jay Braman Jr.
Albany probably didn’t see this coming.
When lawmakers started cooking up a plan to add a huge tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products they knew it was going to pinch smokers, but what about small-business owners?
According to Beatrice Morra, who owns and operates Morra’s Market in Big Indian, the new tax, coupled with the higher cost of her license to sell tobacco products, has made it impossible to keep offering them.
So June 30 was the last day to buy smokes there.
“It’s a shame, but I just can’t do it,” she said, standing at the counter in her shop, where a sign sits next to the cash register informing customers of the impending change.
Morra says she can’t bring herself to tack on a percentage above that to get a return on selling them. Morra hopes her boycott will catch on.
“Maybe if enough of us stop selling them, the state will realize they made a mistake,” she said.
But now, what will happen to Morra’s customer base? Many of who stop for cigarettes. Morra is not sure.
In nearby Pine Hill, at the Belleayre Plaza, owner Gerry Pearlman says he will continue to sell cigarettes, even though the cost of the license has increased tenfold.
“It was $100, now it’s $1000,” he said.
In Andes, Don Hogan, who runs Hogan’s General Store, will keep selling cigarettes. For now.
Hogan complains that the new tax will require that he handle a tremendous amount of cash and get little in return.
Hogan’s license fee is poised to jump from $100 to $2,500, but that is on hold as the courts determine whether the increase is legal.
If it is, Hogan is not sure he will pay it, but fears he must.
“It’s for my customers,” he said. “They come here to buy gas, buy cigarettes. Will they go somewhere else instead?”