Nov. 8, 2019 By Allie Griffin
Nearly three dozen elected officials have come out in opposition to the opening of a large liquor store in College Point after discovering that it is linked to a national chain with a controversial record.
Several of the 35 city, state and federal politicians who object to the store’s opening originally backed its arrival. However, they have rescinded their original support after learning that the proposed 30,000-square-foot store is connected to Total Wine & More, the country’s largest wine and liquor store chain — dubbed the “Walmart” of the liquor industry.
Local lawmakers are concerned that a large chain store in College Point could put many of the mom-and-pop liquor stores in the borough out of business.
“Total Wine would be a total disaster for small businesses in western Queens and I urge the State Liquor Authority to reject its application,” State Sen. Mike Gianaris said. “I stand with small business owners to fight for a stronger community and against further intrusions from anti-competitive businesses that prey on our small businesses.”
Opponents of the liquor store say that the elected officials were unaware of the connection to the chain at first. They say that the operator, Michelle Trone, gave the impression that she was a young entrepreneur opening an independent liquor store when she applied to the SLA for a license on Aug. 12.
Trone plans to open the giant store at the spot of a former Toys R Us at 30-02 Whitestone Expressway under the name MCT Fine Wines & Spirits. The SLA is expected to make a decision on the application sometime in December.
It was soon revealed that Trone is the daughter of David Trone, Total Wine’s co-founder and a Maryland Congressman. Opponents say her store will be part of the enterprise.
They say Trone was able to secure a $10 million bank loan to open her store, which is atypical of a young entrepreneur and shows she has significant financial backing from her father’s chain.
However, Trone said that her store will be independent of the larger chain, though it will take the trade name Total Wine & More. New York state licensing laws prohibit individuals or corporations from operating more than one liquor or wine store in the state.
“New York State law mandates that package stores are operated as independent businesses, and entrepreneurs are restricted to holding just one off-premise license to sell wine and distilled spirits. My store will follow this law,” Trone said in a statement.
“I will use the trade name Total Wine & More, but my store will be operated independently from other stores with this name,” she added. “I have applied to the SLA for a license in Queens that will be operated by me and me alone.”
Many politicians have written letters to the SLA rescinding their initial support of Trone’s application and asking the authority to reject it since hearing the outcry from small business owners.
Several officials oppose Trone’s store out of concern that it might put small operators out of business. There are currently about 350 package stores in the borough, many operated by immigrants.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, who initially supported the Queens megastore, joined local package store owners at a rally opposing the Queens Total Wine in September.
“Every one of those  ‘mom and pop’ proprietors will have their very existence threatened by the arrival of big box wine,” Kim said in a statement.
Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal also rescinded his support in a letter to the SLA chair on Sept. 17.
“New York is proud to showcase and foster our diverse small business community,” Rosenthal wrote. “This diversity is especially captured in the success stories of immigrant small business owners in Queens. Many of the existing package stores in our borough are owned and operated by immigrant residents.”
“The introduction of a store with the scope and scale that MCT (Total Wine) proposes would potentially harm this small business community,” he added.
Trone blamed the flip-flopping among politicians on pressure from the Metro Package Store Association, a nonprofit that advocates for local NYC liquor and wine retailers and has organized Queens mom-and-pops.
“The decision of the lawmakers to rescind their initial support was due to pressure from the Metro Package Store Association — one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the state of New York,” Trone said. “My store is not a multi-billion dollar retailer — it is an independent, woman-owned business.”
The megastore will employ 175 people, with a majority being full time with benefits, including health and dental care, retirement, GED and college tuition assistance, partner benefits and more, Trone said.
Still, package store owners throughout the borough are worried.
Dennis Hwang, whose family owns a liquor store in Jamaica, said the chain’s opening would hurt the livelihood of package store owners in the entire Queens area, not just College Point shopkeepers.
“New York City is supposed to be the land of opportunity for everybody,” Hwang said, adding that the store could crush his American Dream.
While many have accused Total Wine & More of “predatory pricing,” Trone told the Queens Post that her store will never sell alcohol below cost.