U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has jumped on board in supporting the more than 350 local liquor merchants who have band together against a proposed wine megastore in College Point, Queens.
Ocasio-Cortez reached out to Chairman Vincent Bradley of the New York State Liquor Authority via letter Tuesday to highlight the disruption the proposed 30,000-square-foot megastore MCT Fine Wine & Spirits, which has ties to the billion-dollar chain Total Wines & More, would cause to the local economy in her 14th Congressional District and throughout the World’s Borough.
“My district enjoys many of the benefits of a vibrant small business economy: job creation for and by community members, socio-economic mobility for immigrants and new Americans, and long-lasting relationships between proprietors and their customers,” said Ocasio-Cortez in the letter.
Michelle Trone owns MCT Fine Wine & Spirits and is the daughter of U.S. Rep. (D-Md.) David Trone and niece of Robert Trone, the owners of Total Wines, which has nearly 200 sites in 23 states and generates approximately $3 billion in revenue, according to Michael Correra, the executive director of MetroPSA, a merchant advocate group.
“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. “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 business are women. I hope my application will change that, and I hope to encourage other women to embrace this challenge as well.”
Correra believes MCT is “funded by a corporation” and has questioned Trone’s independent venture. MetroPSA had put in a FOIL request into the entrepreneur’s liquor application that stated she has $100,000 of personal funds, invested $800,000 into the firm and has a $10 million credit line.
Total Wine is known for taking business away from local stores within a 50-mile radius, according to Correra. In 2017, the chain store was introduced to Westbury, L.I. and has already squeezed business from the 1,100 stores in both Suffolk and Nassau counties.
Union sales representatives and truck drivers will feel the impact too, according to Correra.
“Since the end of the Prohibition Era, the New York State law has been no chains, because chains take over the marketplace,” said Thomas Baffer, the executive director of UFCW Local 2D, a union for sales representatives. “I have salesmen who have lost $30,000 to $40,000 in business from commission when Total Wine hit them.”
Wine and liquor stores in L.I. have lost approximately 30 to 60 percent in business since Total Wine was introduced because of predatory pricing, according to Baffer.
“Total Wines has a history of loss leader pricing – selling alcohol at or below cost in order to sell high-end products at a generous margin,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “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.”
Ralph Natale, the president of Teamsters Local 917, the union that represents 530 truck drivers and helpers of the liquor and wine industry, believes that New York’s three-tier system is also being threatened.
In New York, the liquor and wine industry has a system that includes distributors, the sale suppliers and entities like restaurants, supermarkets, groceries and bodegas that rely on the having truck drivers to bring the goods to their stores.
“Total Wine is a total negative and that’s where it’s at,” said Natale. “We are dependent on the distributor, so if they take a loss or hit and don’t have things to send out because of this unnecessary competition, which puts the current company in a disadvantage. They will have less product and we will have less work.”
Vinnie Marino, the vice president of Local Teamsters 917, agrees that Total Wine presence in Queens will be harmful.
“Everything has a trickle down effect. When a business leaves there is less of a reason to go to that community,” said Marino. “That means less drivers on the road, and on the union side less membership and dues.”
Marino also fears that Trone’s father will use his political position to change the one liquor store limit in New York.
“They are going to have a monopoly in the industry in every area they open up and who’s going to survive around them?” said Marino. “You are shutting down all those businesses that are trying to survive. What happens when they all go out of business? For us it means less stores to deliver to and less business.”