Dozens of merchants and union sales reps were in Flushing on Monday chanting “no to Total” in protest of a proposed Total Wine & More megastore for College Point that could possibly threaten the viability of thousands of small businesses across the state, according to Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing).
“We are al here collectively to say no to Total Wine and big liquor,” said Kim. “Total is predicated on undermining the total market by using predatory practices that will demolish our local economy starting with our small businesses.”
Despite being an initial supporter of what was marketed as an independent small Minority and Woman-Owned Business Enterprise, Kim later changed his mind after learning that the proposed 30,000-square-foot MCT New York Fine Wine & Spirits, LLC, was allegedly a part of the much larger Total Wine chain store.
The Maryland-based Total Wine & More chain store has nearly 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, a merchant advocacy group.
The multi-billion-dollar company is owned by U.S. Rep. (D-Md.) David Trone and his brother Robert Trone, and spearheading the potential Queens operation is the former’s daughter, Michelle Trone, according to MetroPSA Executive Director Michael Correra.
“In her application to FOIL, there is a $10 million line of credit – she is a 30-year-old woman and she put a $100,000 of her own money,” said Correra. “A 10 million line of credit with $800,000 invested is unprecedented. That’s impossible. It is funded by a corporation and no liquor store behind us has a $10 million line of credit,” added the executive director as he pointed to the mom-and-pop merchants.
Correra believes that a Total Wine & More in Queens will destroy the 350 businesses in Queens, similar to how a branch of the firm has already devastated thousands of businesses surrounding its Westbury, L.I. location.
“Total uses large profits from its stores in other markets so it could sell [its wine] at low costs,” said Correra. “This is purposeful for them to rip away market share and destroy local wine and liquor stores in its path. They’ve done this in Long Island.”
Kim agrees with Correra about the credit line for Total Wine.
“Their model is based on scaling up and destroying local competition by undercutting the pricing,” said Kim. “Once the stores are gone, they are then going to monopolize the prices before raising it.”
Thomas Baffer, the executive director of UFCW Local 2D, a union that represents the sales representatives that work with the merchants, is also worried about the megastore.
“A rule in New York State is no [liquor] chains,” said Baffer. “The guy is saying ‘I’m not a chain. I own a store, my brother owns a store, and my daughter owns one.’ No, she doesn’t! So his daughter got the money for herself. No, she didn’t. This place is a multi-billion dollar company.”
The rules prohibiting chains in New York in order to protect mom-and-pop liquor stores for decades, according to Baffer.
“In New York, we have a three-tier system,” said Baffer. “We have a supplier, a wholesaler that sells to a bar, a restaurant or a liquor store and then you go into one of the entities to buy. This controls the flow of alcohol.”
In terms of the local economy, Baffer, Kim and Correra also fear that the megastore will simply suck money from the borough and the state and not return to the community.
Alfred Talalay, Middle Village native who resides in Nassau County, works as a sales representative for a wholesaler in L.I. and has been apart of Local 2D for 13 years, has seen what Total Wine has done to small businesses.
“I cover stores in the five boroughs and we go store to store and help them fill their shelves and help their business going,” said Talalay. “We represent wineries from around the world and spirits from New York and around the country.”
Since Total Wine opened in L.I., Talalay has seen an immediate drop in sales for local merchants.
“After the first six months, stores that were 10 to 12 miles away were down 30 to 60 percent in business,” said the sales representative of Southern Glazer’s Wines & Spirits, which has thousands of clients. “They were definitely feeling the effect.”
Kailun Cheng, the daughter of merchants who use their earnings from their Rego Park store to pay for her to study at John Hopkins as an engineer, was shocked to learn of Total Wine opening outside of L.I.
“My family has one liquor store and that is it,” said Cheng of 99 Liquors & Wines. “We have a Jewish, Russian and growing Chinese population and they determine what type of wine we sell. We are not bringing in some big-name brand. We are catering to what they want.”