Flushing mom-and-pop business merchants rally against proposed opening of Total Wine & More in College Point

Photo by Carlotta Mohamed/QNS

Small mom-and-pop business merchants—many of whom who are immigrant families — across Queens are coming together to take on mega wine and liquor retail, Total Wine & More. 

Business merchants and members of the nonprofit Metropolitan Package Store Association (MetroPSA) joined state Assemblyman Ron Kim in Flushing Monday chanting “No to Total” urging local legislators and the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) to reject the proposed 30,000-square-foot liquor store at 30-02 Whitestone Expy., the former site of Toys ‘R’ Us, in College Point. 

“We’re all here collectively to say no to Total Wine & More liquor,” said Kim, who rescinded his support for the store after learning it was a part of a larger corporation. “These folks live in our communities. Their kids go to school here. These are our neighbors, our small business owners and we have to protect them, especially now when everything we’re doing is to reward the biggest baddest corporations in the entire world. This is one of the very few places where we’re able to protect local jobs … our liquor industry and small business owners are the heart and soul in our communities.”

The Business merchants, gathered at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel at 135-20 39th Ave., say the massive 200 national chain liquor store will threaten the viability of hundreds of long-established local businesses throughout Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island. 

(From l. to r.) Thomas Baffer, executive director of UFCW Local 2D, Michael Correra, executive director of MetroPSA, and State Assemblyman Ron Kim at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel.

“It would be a complete devastation for 350 wine and liquor stores in Queens. Total [Wine & More] uses large profits from its stores in other markets so they can sell it for a low cost,” said Michael Correra, executive director of MetroPSA, which represents family-owned and independent beverage retailers. “This is purposeful, so they can rip away market share and destroy the local wine and liquor merchants in their path. If approved, market dominance and market devastation will follow.”

Thomas Baffer, the executive director of UFCW Local 2D, a union that represents the sales representatives that work with the merchants, expressed concerns about the wine and liquor store. 

“We’re in this together as partners. Why? Because Total Wine is a monopoly. They have the stores, manpower and dollars to do it,” Baffer said. “My sales people got murdered around Westbury because of the decline in businesses. “We gotta keep Total Wine out of New York. They don’t belong here.”

Total Wine & More, based in Maryland, owns nearly 200 stores in 23 states nationwide with a $3 billion revenue, according to MetroPSA. Two years ago, Total Wine & More opened in Westbury, Long Island, where local businesses there reported a revenue hit of more than 30 percent. Some even closed. After failing to obtain a liquor license in Westchester County, the chain filed a lawsuit against the NYS Liquor Authority. 

Michelle Trone, the daughter of Total Wine & More’s co-owner, Congressman David Trone of Maryland, would be the owner of the College Point shop. 

According to Trone, the sole owner of MCT New York Fine Wines & Spirits LLC, Total Wine & More will be operated separately from the retail chain, which would make it different from other stores and local shops. 

In an interview with QNS, Trone said she believes “the community in Queens needs both types of stores,” and they can co-exist together. 

However, the business merchants who have banded together and hired a lawyer, believe otherwise and say the entrepreneur isn’t welcomed and doesn’t belong in New York City. 

“We are so worried once this comes in, that’s it for us. Bye mom-and-pop, hello Walmart of liquor,” said Amy Tang, of Union Street Wine & Liquor in Flushing. “She claims she loves Queens, the community, the diversity. She doesn’t know us. C’mon, you’re from Washington, D.C. We [the business owners] know each other.”

Tang added, “We’re going to be here for a long time, actually until the hearing, none of us are going to be sleeping. We all call each other to console; we all call each other to comfort. A lot of us are first generation immigrants — we don’t know that much English. That’s why they’re coming to me because they need someone to speak for them and someone who can help.”

According to Tang, her business has decreased by 30 percent with no bulk holiday sales or cases purchased, due to customers driving to Westbury during the holiday season. 

“That’s where we make at least 40 percent of our business during the holidays — November, December and January,” Tang said. “She has said, ‘We are different from you guys. We are the bulk customers … we won’t take your customers that buy a bottle here.’ Well that’s the business and where we want the money from.” 

The business merchants are hoping that all local politicians rally behind them in support of their cause. Despite initially getting the backing from as many as two dozen local officials, support for the chain to come to Queens is now dwindling. 

In a statement to QNS, state Senator John Liu, who represents College Point, said, “The long term impacts that a chain store like Total Wine & More will have on the community raise serious concerns about their application. Their practices of undermining competitors unfairly will, in the long-term, not only harm consumers and the 350 small business owners already operating liquor stores in Queens, but will also run counter to the purposes and spirit of the law, which is meant to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers.” 

Meanwhile, politicians such as state Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal and Councilman Paul Vallone, who also represent College Point, are still in support of Total Wine & More.