Each state has control over how its wine retail market is run and New York State is no exception. The state has long hewed to a one-store per family, or per company, rule in order to foster a strong independent wine market.
Total Wine & More, the national chain that has 214 locations all over the country, has tried to open stores in a number of New York locations—including Queens and Westchester—and finally opened its first and only store in New York State in Long Island in 2017. Local retailers and drink consultants all expressed concerns about the store’s ability to operate independently since it has opened and their concerns were borne out when the chain was fined, and paid, $22,500 for four violations.
The acquisitions centered on the emission of gift cards in the state of Florida that were redeemable in New York State. All four issues were brought in front of, and validated, by a judge according to the Albany-based New York State Liquor Authority.
Total’s public relations team declined to comment for this story. According to William Crowley, the director of public affairs for the NYSLA, “The SLA remains committed to prosecuting all violations of the Alcoholic Beverage Control law to ensure liquor stores remain independent and are not gaining an unfair advantage over businesses that are following the law.”
A Closer Look at the Violations
However both Crowley, and prominent drinks attorneys, think this issue is just the tip of the ice berg. John Hinman, a beverage alcohol specialist and a San Francisco-based partner in the law firm of Hinman & Carmichael LLP says the larger problem is that Total is, in many ways, operating like a chain.
He goes on to note that while a chain may only be able to have one location in a state such as New York, it will buy in bulk along with other locations. Wholesalers are also likely to make items price consistent for large chains in contiguous states and category management specialists will merchandise them in similar ways. Total is by far not the only chain to sell wine and spirits in New York that generally operates in this manner.
The gift cards were evidence that Total was combining funds between the Florida and New York stores which is illegal in New York says Michael Correra, the executive director of New York’s Metropolitan Package Store Association (MPSA), which has more than 400 retail members within the state. “We have a strict one store per person rule and Total…