Local residents sound off against Total Wine & More
Wine enthusiasts are rallying with small liquor store lobbyists to stop big box retailer Total Wine & More from making its way into Woodbury.
The business, which opened its first Twin Cities location in Roseville earlier this year, is proposing to open another at Woodbury Village and will go before the City Council next week to request an off sale liquor license.
A number of Woodbury residents have urged city officials to deny Total Wine’s request, citing “dishonest and unethical” practices by the company that allegedly drives competition out of small markets before hiking its prices.
“It’s sad to see our city get sucked into the homogenization of only ‘big box’ establishments, leaving the local entrepreneurial businesses no opportunity to thrive,” Lori Makela wrote in an email to City Council. “It would be incredibly sad to see the smaller family-owned wine stores in Woodbury all go out of business if Total Wine & More opens its doors.”
Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA), a group lobbying behind small liquor stores, isn’t so excited about Total Wine expanding its business in the Twin Cities either.
Executive director Frank Ball said he couldn’t discuss MLBA’s concerns for “fear of litigation” but he plans to go before Woodbury City Council to explain why Total Wine shouldn’t be granted a license.
“We’re hoping to be heard at the public hearing about the concerns about their past practices in other jurisdictions,” he said. “We’d like to explain those to the City Council at the meeting.”
The group’s efforts to stop Total Wine from receiving a liquor license in Roseville were halted by a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling in February that stated liquor licensing laws are not intended to protect the competition, therefore MLBA didn’t have standing to challenge the city’s granting of a liquor license.
Total Wine & More has also been working to open a store in Bloomington since submitting an application in December.
The business withdrew its application when the city of Bloomington requested the company address ownership, personal and operational information, according to agenda minutes from April.
Edward Cooper, vice president of public affairs for Total Wine & More, said allegations regarding predatory pricing are made up by competitors and have never been substantiated.
The Twin Cities market isn’t used to a business like Total Wine & More, he said, but many area customers have consistently patronized the Roseville store since it opened, which Cooper said proves its popularity in Minnesota.
“The customer wants selection, the customer wants service and the customer wants good price,” he said. “If you provide that for the customer, the customer wins and ultimately the retailer wins.”
Total Wine & More first opened in 1991 by brothers David and Robert Trone as a mom-and-pop liquor store in Delaware.
Based in Potomac, Maryland, the company expanded over the years to now over 100 stores in 16 states, with each averaging about $15 million in annual sales.
Total Wine is proposing to open a 30,000 square-foot store in Woodbury with 8,000 wines priced from as low as $3 a bottle to as high as $5,000.
Though the city received a dozen emails in opposition to the big box retailer, a local wine shop owner is welcoming the opportunity to compete.
Afton’s Swirl Wine Bar owner Dave Jarvis said the company is just “taking advantage of the American dream and our capitalistic society.”
“The majority of liquor stores out there would find themselves having to evolve and adapt due to the change in climate with Total Wine coming into our market,” he said. “If they don’t change and adapt they’re going to find themselves in a difficult position struggling to compete.”
But many residents living outside of Woodbury who shop here, including Cannon Falls and Afton, urged the city to consider the negative impact Total Wine would have on the local economy.
“I come up to Woodbury because of the services and fine selection of wines,” Annette Mansfield said. “The vineyards I am able to select from are unique and you will not find them ever in a big box store.”
Woodbury resident Jeffrey Stanley said he’s against granting a license to a company that “bullied their way into other municipalities.”
“We need to stop them here,” he said. “Our city has plenty of off sale and more specifically fine wine retailers to service our needs.”
A public hearing on the issuance of Total Wine & More's liquor license is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 25, at Woodbury City Hall.