Following a strong outcry by local Queens small business wine and liquor store merchants against a proposed mega chain liquor store in College Point that would threaten their livelihoods, nearly three dozen city, state, and federal elected officials have now come out opposed to the application by the Maryland-based, multi-billion dollar retailer, with many of them reversing course after learning the facts.
Since news got out that the State Liquor Authority (SLA) was considering an application for a new 30,000 square-foot-store by the daughter of the Maryland Congressman and founder of Total Wine & More, a remarkable 35 New York local elected officials have registered their opposition with the SLA, mostly citing the threat to mom-and-pop businesses and fear of market saturation.
Numerous elected officials had originally signed on to support the project but have since walked away after learning the truth: That the College Point proposal is in fact a Total Wine megastore, not a local, independently owned business, as some say they were led to believe.
The megastore project would carry a $10 million bank loan far in excess of the means of a typical young New York entrepreneur. Only a startup operation with very significant corporate financial backing could ever qualify for a $10 million new business loan.
We are in this together,” said Tom Baffer, Executive Director United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 2D. “Why? Because Total Wine is a monopoly. Total Wine is here to destroy pricing. The predatory practices that they employ have already affected the people and the stores around Westbury, Long Island. We have to keep Total Wine out of New York City, they do not belong here.”
New York State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris said, “Total Wine would be a total disaster for small businesses in western Queens and I urge the State Liquor Authority to reject its application. I stand with small business owners to fight for a stronger community and against further intrusions from anti-competitive businesses that prey on our small businesses.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim said, “There are already over 350 package stores in Queens. Almost every one of those stores are run by a “mom and pop” owner who lives in the same community and operates right on their main street. Every one of those “mom and pop” proprietors will have their very existence threatened by the arrival of big box wine”
Merchant Tone Sinclaire, owner of The Wine Room in Forest Hills, recalled, “when we applied for our license, the SLA asked us the square footage of the store, and they aren’t giving us a license for a 10,000 sqft, store, they aren’t going to give us that, so how were they [Total Wine] able to get a 30,000 square foot store and receive a license?”
Dennis Hwang, whose family also owns a liquor store in Jamaica, said, “I knew this would impact liquor stores around. But I didn’t know the gravity of how it would impact the entire Queens area. New York City is supposed to be the land of opportunity for everybody and it’s going to hurt to get that opportunity taken away in a flash.”
Of the 35 elected officials on record now opposing the plan, 13 initially signaled support before learning of the true nature of the proposed store.
In a letter to the SLA Chair, State Senator John Liu wrote, “Having learned more in recent weeks concerning Total Wine’s troubling business practices and their manipulation of our state’s licensing requirements, I request that the State Liquor Authority reject this application. The long term impacts that a chain store like Total Wine & More will have on the community raise serious concerns about their application.”
Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal whose district includes the proposed site also said in a letter to the SLA Chair, “New York is proud to showcase and foster our diverse small business community. This diversity is especially captured in the success stories of immigrant small business owners in Queens. Many of the existing package stores in our borough are owned and operated by immigrant residents. The introduction of a store with the scope and scale that MCT (Total Wine) proposes would potentially harm this small business community.”
New York City Council Member Peter Koo added, “With 350 liquor stores already in existence in Queens, many of which are minority and family-owned, the addition of a big box liquor store would have a devastating ripple effect to not only their establishments, but also to the many sales and distributors who operate within our community.”
Michael Correra, Executive Director of the non-profit Metropolitan Package Store Association, warned that if Total Wine is allowed to dominate and manipulate the market Queens will be further plagued by empty storefronts. “In New York City, it is already estimated that 9% of storefronts are empty, and we can’t let the local neighborhood wine and liquor merchants be the next classification of local shopkeepers to simply go extinct.”
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advised the SLA Chairman in a letter that she was “deeply concerned about the potential impacts. As a large retailer with ties to a billion-dollar nationwide chain, Total Wine has access to resources and economics of scales with which smaller retailers could not compete. Our small businesses would not be able to compete with such practices and it would be devastating to the largely immigrant community that is currently employed at many of these stores.”
Elected officials opposed to a 30,000 sqft. Total Wine & More megastore coming to Queens include: Senators Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., Michael N. Gianaris, Todd Kaminsky, John C. Liu, Jessica Ramos, James Sanders Jr., Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Stacey Pheffer Amato, Jeffrion L. Aubry, Michael Benedetto, Edward C. Braunstein, Vivian E. Cook, Catalina Cruz, Michael DenDekker, Andrew Hevesi, Ron Kim, Michael LiPetri, David G. McDonough, Melissa Miller, Michael Miller, Michael Montesano, Anthony H. Palumbo, Andrew P. Raia, Daniel Rosenthal, Aravella Simotas, Michele Titus, David I. Weprin; City Council Members Adrienne Adams, Costa Constantinides, Mark Gjonaj, Robert F. Holden, Peter Koo, Rory I. Lancman, James Van Bramer; U.S. Representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.