Translated by Rong Xiaoqing
Local wine shop owners, trade organization representatives and an elected official rallied in Flushing on Sept. 16 to fight against Total Wine & More’s (TWM) plan to open a store in College Point. Protesters say the arrival of TWM, the so-called Costco of wine retailing, would force local shops into unfair competition, and eventually drive them out of the market.
TWM, a $3 billion monolith, plans to open a 30,000-square-foot store at 30-02 Whitestone Expressway, which used to be a Toys R Us. The owner of the store, 31-year-old entrepreneur Michelle Trone, plans to divide the shop into two sections, with one offering more than 9,000 kinds of wine and 4,500 kinds of liquor, and the other offering more than 1,400 kinds of New York wine, 50 kinds of New York apple wine and beer.
“There is no such wine store in Queens. And mine will be operated in a different model so that customers only need to go shopping three to six times a year for the alcohol they need for the entire year,” Trone said. “In the history of TWM, our stores have never driven local shops out of the market. What’s more, the store will provide more than 100 jobs in the area.”
But protesters at the rally said they don’t buy it. Michael Correra, executive director of Metropolitan Package Store Association, said there are 350 wine shops in Queens and they are vibrant contributors to the local economy. A TWM store would affect shops within 50 miles of its proximity, including those located in both Queens and the Bronx, and drive them into the coldest winter, he and other opponents say.
“We need to say ‘No’ to the big retail chain,” said Assemblyman Ron Kim. “It would squeeze out small businesses, damage the healthy competition environment, and trigger a vicious cycle.”
“TWM’s prices are even lower than ours. How would we survive?” asked Helen Jiang, a local wine shop owner. “A TWM store would make more people in College Point lose their jobs because the local wine shops would close one after another.”
Jiang said many local shops are now working together with lawyers to protect their interests against TWM’s proposed store. A liquor store license application for the Whitestone Expressway location — filed under the name MCT New York Fine Wines & Spirits LLC — is still pending before the State Liquor Authority, records show. A SLA spokesman told QNS.com that he expects the application to go before the authority’s board in November or December.
In recent weeks, local wine shop owners have been meeting with elected officials and have won the support of 21 of them, including state Senator John Liu, state Assemblyman David Weprin and Kim.
Tang, a recent college graduate who opened a wine shop with two other college graduates in downtown Flushing five years ago, said she worries TWM would pump up prices via monopoly.
“A TWM store often offers low prices in its early days,” she said. “But a few years later, when local shops are pushed out, its prices would hike up. And by then, it would have controlled the entire market.”