Nearly 30 Queens elected officials have rescinded their support for a mega wine and liquor store in College Point, after learning that the company is allegedly a multi-billion dollar retailer and not a local, independently owned business as they were led to believe.
Thirty-six city, state and federal lawmakers, including 28 from the borough, said that the addition of Total Wine & More would threaten the livelihood of mom and pop shops in the area. Many of the officials who initially supported the proposal have walked away after learning the supposed truth about the company.
In September, residents got word that the State Liquor Authority (SLA) was considering an application from 31-year-old Michelle Trone, founder of Total Wine & More and daughter of Maryland Congressman David Trone. The company’s founder planned to open a 30,000 square-foot store at the site of a former Toys ‘R’ Us at 30-02 Whitestone Expwy.
Michelle Trone applied to operate MCT New York Fine Wines & Spirits LLC as a separate entity from all other stores operating under the trade name Total Wine & More. Many local business owners in the area feared that their stores would succumb to the megastore’s presence.
In a written statement to QNS, Trone said that the Metro Package Store Association, “one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the state of New York,” put pressure on the lawmakers in question.
“My store is not a multi-billion dollar retailer — it is an independent, woman-owned business. New York state law mandates that package stores are operated as independent businesses, and entrepreneurs are restricted to holding just one off-premise license to sell wine and distilled spirits. My store will follow this law. I will use the trade name Total Wine & More, but my store will be operated independently from other stores with this name. I have applied to the SLA for a license in Queens that will [be] operated by me and me alone,” Trone said.
When she first rolled out her proposal, Trone assured owners and lawmakers that consumers would only visit her store “three to six times a year to stock up for an occasion, parties, holidays or an event.”
“I believe the community in Queens needs both of these types of stores. There is also, historically, looking at other Total Wines before and after they open, the number of stores around it do not go out of business,” Trone said in September.
According to Trone, the proposed store would have WiFi, wines and spirits educational content and customer classes led by industry experts. The owner said that the shop would bring about 175 jobs to Queens, with 75 percent of them being full-time positions
But critics of the plan did not buy Trone’s reasoning that the megastore and smaller liquor stores could coexist.
“Total Wine would be a total disaster for small businesses in western Queens and I urge the State Liquor Authority to reject its application,” said state Senator Michael Gianaris. “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.”
Flushing Assemblyman Ron Kim also doubled down on his opposition after initially supporting Trone’s proposal. On Sept. 17, Kim joined Flushing small business merchants and the nonprofit Metropolitan Package Store Association (MetroPSA) in urging the SLA to reject plans to open the megastore.
“There are already over 350 package stores in Queens. Almost every one of those stores [is] 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,” Kim said.
On the day of the protest, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sent a letter to New York State Liquor Authority Chairman Vincent Bradley raising concerns that 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,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in the letter.
According to the Metro Package Store Association, the megastore project would carry a $10 million bank loan “far in excess of the means of a typical young New York entrepreneur.” Only startup companies with “very significant” backing from the corporate financial world could qualify for a loan of that amount.
Liquor store owners like Tone Sinclaire, owner of The Wine Room in Forest Hills, and Dennis Hwang, whose family owns a liquor store in Jamaica, have spoken on the impact that Total Wines would have on smaller shops in Queens.
“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 square-feet 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?” Sinclaire said.
“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,” Hwang added.
Below is a complete list of elected officials who have come out against the plan to open the College Point store. Queens representatives are marked with an asterisk (*).
- Joseph P. Addabbo Jr.*
- Michael N. Gianaris*
- Todd Kaminsky
- John C. Liu*
- Jessica Ramos*
- James Sanders Jr.*
- Toby Ann Stavisky*
- 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*
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez*
- Grace Meng*
Story edited to add Congresswoman Grace Meng to the list of elected officials against the establishment of Total Wine & More.