US: Ocasio-Cortez Battles Big Alcohol Locating in Queens
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Party, is working to block a liquor retail giant from opening up a store in her home district in Queens, New York.
The congresswoman urged state Liquor Authority Chairman Vincent Bradley to deny Total Wine & More a license to open up a store in College Point, Queens, NY.
The liquor retail giant is called the “Walmart of liquor” by critics. The retailer is known for its rock-bottom alcohol prices, making alcohol more affordable to people. Affordability is a major factor in increasing alcohol consumption and resulting harm.
Total Wines has a history of loss leader pricing — selling alcohol at or below cost in order to sell high-end products at a generous margin. Our small businesses would not be able to compete with such practices and it would be devastating to the largely immigrant community that is currently employed at many of these stores,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, according to Pluralist.
Total Wine opened a Long Island store in Westbury in 2017 but state liquor regulators denied applications in Stony Brook and Westchester following strong opposition from local liquor merchants and the New York State Retailers Alliance.
New York state law prohibits giant liquor store chains from applying for a state license to operate alcohol branches within the state in order to protect neighborhood merchants. But it does allow entrepreneurs affiliated with national firms to apply for a sole license for an individual store under a different corporate name.
Political ties of Total Wine
Michelle Trone, the applicant for the liquor store is the daughter of Maryland Rep. David Trone, who co-owns the Total Wine chain. She filed for the application for the Total Wine store in AOC’s district under the name MCT Fine Wine & Spirit.
I am deeply concerned about the potential impacts that MCT Fine Wine & Spirits would have on the local small business community,” said Ms Ocasio-Cortez, as per Pluralist.
As a large retailer with ties to a billion dollar nationwide chain, Total Wines has access to resources and economies of scale with which smaller retailers could not compete,” she said.
Mr Trone co-founded Total Wine with his brother. The alcohol giant is America’s largest privately owned retailer of beer, wine, and liquor, with 193 stores in 23 states. Trone served as president of Total Wine until December 2016 and is still listed as co-owner of the company on its website, according to The Intercept.
Total Wine is currently fighting in a Supreme Court case to overthrow federal states’ right to regulate alcohol sales within their borders. In its challenge of the 21st Amendment, Total Wine claims that Tennessee cannot impose a two-year residency requirement for obtaining a retail license to sell alcohol. This has proven a barrier for Total Wine. If the Supreme Court sides with Total Wine, state alcohol laws will have little or no force, making it easier for retail giants to dominate the sector and potentially roll back health and safety measures on alcohol in a drive for profit.
This is a clear example of a member of Congress pursuing his business interests at the expense of the public interest by attempting “to deregulate an industry so that his wine shops can pop up on every street corner in America,” as The Intercept writes.
Averting alcohol harm in Queens
The congresswoman’s reason for the opposition to the store is to support small business owners in Queens. The Total Wine liquor store promises 100 more jobs in the area but the congresswoman argues the liquor giant selling alcohol at lower prices than in other smaller stores will drive small stores out of business and hence cause more loss of jobs.
Averting the giant retail liquor store would also be a win for public health and safety. Availability and affordability are two major factors driving alcohol consumption and harm. The giant retail chain would make alcohol both more available and affordable. Therefore, averting the store would mean averting an increase in alcohol harm in Queens.