Amy Tang’s liquor store, Union Street Wine and Liquor, sits in the heart of downtown Flushing on Union Street and 39th Avenue. Tang said the closest Total Wine & More location and Westbury, a 30 minute drive away, has already taken 30 percent of her earnings. Photo by Maureen Mullarkey
Amy Tang hasn’t seen her son for weeks.
“Everyone is working day and night, day and night,” said the co-owner of Union Wine & Liquor, in Flushing. “My business partner Karen hasn’t seen her daughter for weeks. And we also have a store to run, this is what we’ve invested all our money on.”
Since August, Tang, along with about 150 other Queens liquor store owners, has gone door-to-door, urging local politicians and other store owners to reject the liquor application of a potential 30,000-square-foot mega liquor store in College Point.
“This for sure would be a category five disaster for local wine and liquor merchants for not only Queens but the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and local Nassau county,” said Michael Correra, the executive director of Metropolitan Package Store Association (Metro PSA) and owner of Michael Towne Wines and Spirits.
Dozens of liquor store owners, sales representatives and their families met at the East Sheraton Hotel in Flushing yesterday. Standing In front of them, Assemblyman Ron Kim of the 40th District, led the group in a chant, shouting “no to total.” Participants held up different signs that read “mega stores kill neighborhood businesses,” “UFCW Local 2D,” and “#TotalMonopoly” with a picture of Rich Uncle Pennybags, the mascot of the board game Monopoly.
“We’re all gathered here because we’re so worried, like bye mom and pop, hello Wal-Mart of liquor,” said Tang.
Total Wine & More, dubbed the “Wal-Mart” of liquor stores, is the country‘s largest independent retailer of fine wine and has 199 superstores across 23 states. Last month, Michelle Trone, the daughter of Maryland Congressman David Trone who owns the national brand, filed the application for 30-02 Whitestone Expressway, the former site of a Toys ‘R’ Us.
“Total Wine is a monopoly,” said Tom Baffer, spokesperson for liquor sales representatives in the area. “Total Wine is here to destroy pricing. They have the stores they have the manpower, they have the dollar to do it.”
Two years ago, Total Wine opened up a location in Westbury. According to the Metropolitan Package Store Association, in the two years the Westbury location has existed, 63 smaller stores in the area have closed.
Queens businesses have already been affected.
“My business has already dropped down 30 percent. And that’s just nearby. I don’t have any more holiday sales,” said Tang, who has owned her business for five years. “I don’t have anymore case buying because no one will come to my store now, because they will drive to Westbury and spend 30 minutes driving down and buy a bunch of their stuff for the holidays.”
Trone applied for the license under her own entity, MCT Fine Wine & Spirits LLC. But opposers believe it is a scheme to get around New York State’s law that prohibits store owners from operating more than one store.
“It’s disgusting, what they’re doing. Using his daughter as a pawn? “ said Baffer, in reference to David Trone. “What kind of father does that? You don’t do that.“
Kim also expressed his thoughts on the deceit. Several politicians had signed a letter in support of Trone, believing she was an independent, small business owner. Kim has rescinded his support.
“I was presented with this by someone had some to me and said it was an MWBE (Minority/ Women Business Entrepreneurs) owned small business owner that was trying to get a license,” said Kim. “So I had no reason to doubt that story. But the moment that I came back to my community and started reading about who this person is, I realized that this is not a small business.”
The New York State Liquor Authority is expected to make a decision in November.
Until then, local business owners will plan to continue building an opposition to Trone’s approval.
“For a long time until the hearing, none of us are going to be sleeping. We all call each other to consul, to comfort. The four closest liquor store owners around me and they call me more than my husband calls me,” said Tang. “ We are a small family coming together to fight a big family. We will not allow our life savings, our livelihood to be taken.”