Total Wine & More held a grand opening celebration Wednesday for its new Bethesda headquarters under a tent in the parking lot. But the event quickly became more like a tent revival when speakers urged county and state lawmakers in the audience to privatize liquor sales in Montgomery County.
The company, which has been headquartered at the Cabin John Shopping Center on Tuckerman Lane for the past 15 years, moved to its new 100,000-square-foot space at 6600 Rockledge Drive last week.
The event Wednesday included more than 500 people, many of whom were Total Wine employees.
The retailer has more than 120 stores nationwide, including locations in Laurel and McLean, but does not have a store in Montgomery County because of the county’s control over the sales and distribution of alcohol and restrictive state laws, according to company officials.
As County Executive Ike Leggett sat on the stage, State Comptroller Peter Franchot pointed out all the state elected officials in the audience and said that they “have a responsibility to transition Montgomery County out of the alcohol business.”
Franchot, who serves as the state’s chief regulator of alcohol and tobacco, has long been a critic of what he calls the county’s “antiquated” system. Franchot said that while he’s sensitive to the fact that the Department of Liquor Control brings in about $30 million to the county’s general fund, he believes the county needs to exit the business.
“It’s not what the county is good at, it’s not what government is good at,” Franchot said, adding that the county’s “cash cow” is more like a “cash calf” when compared to the county’s annual $5 billion operating budget. He said his 93-year-old father, who was in the audience, could fix the problem in 30 minutes.
The lines drew loud applause from the audience.
Total Wine & More co-owner Robert Trone used part of his remarks to highlight the issue.
“There’s still no Total Wine in Montgomery County,” Trone said. “I hope that’s something we can get together to change to serve hundreds of thousands of residents.”
He said in 2000 the company moved to the county from offices in Pittsburgh and Delaware because he and his brother, President and co-owner David Trone, believed it would be a great place to live and work.
Over those 15 years, Total Wine has grown rapidly, doubling in size about every five years, according to Robert Trone. He said they expect to end the year with about 130 stores in 18 states and revenue of $2.1 billion. Over the next five years, they hope to double the number of stores and revenue as well as expand the workforce at the headquarters to 1,000.
Leggett, who spoke before Franchot, did not mention the liquor control issue but did commend Total Wine on the new headquarters.
“I’m impressed by the commitment you’ve made to the county, despite the challenges you’ve enumerated,” Leggett said. He did say that the fact that families want to live here—and by extension that companies want to expand or locate here—“did not come about by accident.”
Other speakers, including Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Maryland Senate President Mike Miller, congratulated the company on its move.
“What a great story about a family business that just took off through hard work, creativity and ingenuity,” Van Hollen said.
At the event David and Robert Trone also presented 10 local nonprofits with $10,000 checks for their work. Those nonprofits were A Wider Circle, Casa de Maryland, Housing Unlimited, Imagination Stage, Interfaith Works, Manna Food Center, Mobile Medical Care, Shepherd’s Table, Rebuilding Together Montgomery County and Stepping Stones Shelter.
Photo above: Total Wine & More President and co-owner David Trone speaks to the audience at the event Wednesday afternoon. Andrew Metcalf