Mom-and-pop liquor stores have united together throughout Queens to prevent a proposed mega liquor store for College Point from pushing them out of business, according to the non-profit Metropolitan Package Store Association, a merchant advocate.
“This is a classic ‘David vs. Goliath’ battle,” said Michael Correra, executive director of MetroPSA. “No one likes seeing powerful bullies moving into their neighborhood to radically change the landscape, disrupting established merchants that won’t be able to survive or continue to pay their rent.”
The alleged bully in question is the Maryland-based Total Wine & More chain store, which has 200 sites in 23 states and approximately $3 billion in revenue, which is enough for the so-called “WalMart of liquor” to potentially push out the more than 350 local stores in Queens, according to MetroPSA.
“The business model is that they come to an area, they take the profits from the other stores and they basically lay waste to a local area,” said Correra. “They sell all the name brands at a low cost, they lose money and attempt to gain market share to the demise of local liquor merchants.”
The multi-billion-dollar company, which is owned by U.S. Rep. (D-Md.) David Trone and his brother Robert Trone often draw consumers from a 50-mile radius and have been said to have already knocked down the revenue 40 to 60 percent of neighboring stores in Westbury, L.I., according to Correra.
“It’s like a neutron bomb going off in the middle of New York City,” said Correra. “They either try to put you out of business or hurt you so bad that you don’t want to compete and this leaves a lot of empty storefronts.”
All of New York City and L.I.’s liquor merchants, which are 2,500 in total are possibly at risk if a 30,000-square-foot megastore gets approved, and that could cost thousands of jobs for retail workers, retailers, producers, distributors and truck drivers, according to Correra.
The proposed location is two to 11 miles from Brooklyn, Nassau County, and the Bronx, according to MetroPSA. The megastore is also in the process of changing New York liquor laws to make further inroads in the state, similar to how it modified laws in Tennessee, Minnesota, South Carolina and Connecticut.
Across the U.S., starting with a lawsuit in Tennessee in June, out-of-state wine retailer owners no longer have to spend two years as residents in their proposed community to open a liquor store after a U.S. Supreme Court that Total Wine won, according to NPR.
In 2017, Minnesota changed its laws to allow sales of liquor on Sundays and South Carolina now permits retailers to have locations at more than three sites, according to the New York Post. Connecticut also has to open its liquor stores until 10 p.m. as well.
In April, the New York State Liquor Authority had rejected Total Wine’s application for its initially planned store in White Plains due to oversaturation in Westchester County and is currently appealing the decision.
If they succeed, that could also lead to an easier pathway in opening up a site in College Point.
“It’s a battle for New York,” said Correra. “In New York, you are allowed to own one liquor store per person, but they have a family member trying to open one in Westchester trying to appeal the state’s decision.”
Hoping to open up shop in College Point is Michelle Trone, an M.B.A. graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the daughter of the congressman.
“My proposed store will occupy a former Toys-R-Us store adjacent to the Whitestone Expressway that has been vacant since early 2018,” said Trone. “My research informed me that this densely populated area [near] Flushing was ideally suited for a more
innovative and experiential approach to alcohol retailing. My proposed store will be radically different from any store in the Queens market.”
Trone has proposed a store with a more diverse product assortment, a sales staff of trained experts, and she has promised to promote local New York products. She also hopes to bring more diversity in the type of people that own liquor stores as well.
“The vast majority of retail alcohol businesses in New York are owned by men, even though the vast majority of customers who shop in those businesses are women,” said Trone. “I hope my application will change that, and I hope to encourage other women to embrace this challenge as well.”
Correra fears that if Total Wine succeeds, there will be layoffs for salespeople, sale representatives, and less work for truck drivers. Not only will local liquor stores lose business, but also there is a potential for other firms to lose out.
“They are not using accountants from Queens, they are not using a printer from Queens, they are getting their office and marketing material from their Maryland-based office,” said Correra. “This is why many legislators have turned their backs on the proposal. This could lead to the residual demise of other local business too.”
Trone says that MetroPSA is nothing but a “powerful lobbying group of small retailers in New York” that has “spread false rumors, innuendo, and other unsubstantiated allegations” about her relatives.
“It saddens me to know that entrenched political interests in New York are more important to some than merit, innovation, fair competition, consumers or the opportunity to increase female participation in an industry dominated by men,” added Trone.
Updated on Sept. 10, 2019, to include Michelle Trone’s statements.