Maryland-based beverage alcohol chain Total Wine & More’s appeal of a December 2018 rejection from the New York State Liquor Authority to open a store in Westchester County is poised to come to a head this week. The New York State Supreme Court is slated to hear the case on Friday, May 10. The Liquor Board noted the large number of liquor stores in the area as an overriding reason to deny a license. “The Liquor Authority already made their opinion and they denied the license,” says Stefan Kalogridis, president of the New York State Liquor Store Association and owner of Colvin Wine Merchants in Albany. “There are no chain liquor stores in New York State.”
Total Wine & More’s request to open a 21,000-square-foot store in the hamlet of Hartsdale—located in the town of Greenburgh, about 30 miles north of New York City—was met with intense, organized opposition from local merchants who claim the area already has more than enough liquor stores. “If the market is saturated, they’re usually going to deny a license,” Kalogridis says. “If there is no need for another liquor store, that’s the denial. It happens every day.”
Identifying itself as the largest independent retailer of fine wine, Total Wine’s successful legal cases throughout the country are changing the landscape of beverage alcohol at the retail tier. If approved, the Hartsdale store would carry about 9,200 wine SKUs and 2,000 spirits SKUs, as well as roughly 50 New York ciders. Total Wine, which was founded by brothers David and Robert Trone in 1991, faces opposition from approximately 35 liquor store owners in Westchester County, as well as from the New York City-based Metropolitan Package Store Association.
The retail wine giant—which has 198 superstores in 23 states—has won legal victories in Minnesota, where it drove the legalization of Sunday sales in 2017; Connecticut, where it helped push through later operating hours for liquor stores; and South Carolina, where a single entity can now hold more than three off-premise liquor licenses, thanks to Total’s efforts. The ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court stated that the three-store limit was unconstitutional because it provided “economic protection for existing retail liquor store owners” and “treats large retailers differently from small retailers.”
New York, however, presents a different challenge. Under state law, an individual or entity can’t own more than one liquor license; Total Wine currently operates a 26,000-square-foot liquor store in Westbury, Long Island. Total Wine was already denied another New York liquor license—in Stony Brook, Long Island—in 2017. Under the state law, the issuance of new liquor licenses “shall be made with public convenience and advantage.” The Liquor Authority has the discretion to determine the number and type of licenses issued as determined by the public interest. Now it will be up to the Empire State’s High Court to determine if the state Liquor Authority has the public’s best interest in mind.