Total Wine store in Queens would threaten future of small retailers, local owners say

An independent such as Liquor & Wine Warehouse in Corona, owner Alex Melamudov said, simply "cannot compete with the business model of Total Wine, a multi-tier, multi-state chain operation."
An independent such as Liquor & Wine Warehouse in Corona, owner Alex Melamudov said, simply "cannot compete with the business model of Total Wine, a multi-tier, multi-state chain operation." Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

If a proposed 30,000-square-foot Total Wine & More store in Queens becomes a reality, small liquor and wine retailers could lose about a third of their sales, a Long Island shop owner warned.

“They can expect, I would say, a 30% drop in their volume,” said Paul Zagardo, the owner of a wine and liquor store in Westbury, where a Total Wine moved in in 2017. “We’ve lost our multi-bottle sales, so the sales that are six, seven, eight bottles to a case or two or three.”

The Total Wine store is being proposed for 30-02 Whitestone Expy., once the site of a Toys ‘R’ Us, in College Point.

The proposed Queens location for the Total Wine store is at 30-02 Whitestone Expy.
The proposed Queens location for the Total Wine store is at 30-02 Whitestone Expy. Photo Credit: Howard Simmons

Total Wine & More, based in Bethesda, Maryland, has about 200 locations across the country and is owned by Congressman David Trone (D-Md.) and his brother, but the Queens store would be owned by Michelle Trone, the daughter of the representative. Michelle Trone filed an application for a license with the State Liquor Authority on Aug. 12.

The SLA has denied Total Wine licenses for locations in Hartsdale in Westchester County and Stony Brook on Long Island in recent years.

If the Queens store gets the license and moves in, it will be “like a giant hurricane touching ground and destroying local merchants,” said Michael Correra, the executive director of Metropolitan Package Store Association, which represents family-owned and independent beverage retailers. 

There are about 350 liquor and wine stores in Queens that “serve the community needs,” Correra added. “The owners live and work in the borough, they raise families in the borough and they buy products within the borough.”

Alex Melamudov, who owns Liquor & Wine Warehouse in Corona, a few miles from the proposed Total Wine location, said he’s “not afraid of competition,” but because of the liquor licensing laws in New York, Total Wine would have an unfair advantage. The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Law prevents liquor and wine store owners from operating more than one store in New York. 

“If I want to have more than one store, I cannot. Even if I put someone else on the liquor license application, if I have influence over that particular operation, it is against the regulation,” Melamudov said.

“No matter what an independent New York retailer does, if they play by the rules established by the State Liquor Authority, we effectively cannot compete with the business model of Total Wine, a multi-tier, multi-state chain operation.”

Zagardo, who opened Path to Savings Wines and Liquors in Westbury 40 years ago, said he had to let go of one of his three full-time employees because of the revenue he lost after Total Wine opened.

“We’ve had players come in, but this is a little bit of a different dynamic — non-resident, corporate chain store,” he said. “This is a whole different ball game.

“I’m trying to get smart about what my branding should be and what I should sell cheaper … It’s a little trial and error but we’re trying to be smart about our selection.”

Total Wine did not respond to amNewYork’s request for comment, but in an interview with NBC New York, Michelle Trone said customers in Queens “deserve the opportunity” to shop at her “much bigger and different store,” which would employ about 175 people.

“I completely think that the local stores and my store will coexist together just the way they have in other places,” she said.

A group of 13 state Assembly members, including Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, who represents College Point, sent a letter to the SLA in support of the Total Wine store. 

Despite reports suggesting he was reconsidering that position, Rosenthal’s spokesman, Ricky Malone, said Thursday, “The Assembly member’s position has not changed.”

Similarly, the local City Councilman, Paul Vallone, was one of 10 Queens council members to sign a letter in May in support of the store. “The Council Member’s stance on the issue remains the same,” spokeswoman Suzanne Monteverdi said. 

State Sen. John Liu, however, said there are “serious concerns” about the long-term impacts of a Total Wine store in the borough. 

“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,” he said in a statement.   

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, who represents Long Island City, Astoria and Sunnyside, also issued a letter urging the SLA to deny the application for the Total Wine store.

“With more than 350 independently owned liquor stores throughout Queens, there is no shortage of competition to keep prices affordable,” Gianaris wrote. “A major retailer like Total Wine & More would have a destructive impact on the local marketplace and push small companies out of our communities.”

The license application is expected to go before the SLA Board in late November or early December, a spokesman said. All SLA Board meetings are open to the public.