Bethesda Liquor Store Owners Oppose Bill that Would Allow Total Wine Expansion

Bethesda Liquor Store Owners Oppose Bill that Would Allow Total Wine Expansion

Two say allowing a retailer a second license would hurt small businesses

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With its corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Total Wine wants to open stores in the county as well.

Andrew Metcalf

A pair of Bethesda liquor store owners are opposed to a proposed state bill that would allow Total Wine and More to move into Montgomery County, where the national company has its corporate headquarters.

The bill would allow the holder of any Class A liquor license anywhere in the state to apply for a second Class A license in the county. Current state law allows a person to hold only one liquor license statewide.  

Peter Frank, owner of Talbert’s Ice & Beverage Service in Bethesda, and Justin McInerney, who owns Capital Beer and Wine in Bethesda, called the measure an assault on small business at a public hearing Wednesday on the legislation that could be introduced during the 2017 General Assembly, which starts Jan. 11. Total Wine, they said, was a huge company, operating in 20 states and generating more than $1 billion in revenue.

“Big is not better,” Frank said.

The sponsor of the legislation, Del. Charles Barkley, however, viewed it as reasonable legislation that could help not only Total Wine, but all local liquor store owners to expand.

“It is a modest commonsense approach and will support business owners that want to grow their businesses in a very modest way,” Barkley said.

Total Wine opened its first location in 1991 and has grown to become the nation’s largest family-owned retailer for wine and beer with 149 stores in 20 states. Last year, Total Wine moved its 500-employee headquarters from Cabin John Shopping Center on Tuckerman Lane in Potomac to a 100,000-square foot space on Rockledge Drive. Though the move was local, company leaders had considered leaving the state, in part because of license restrictions, company spokesman Ed Cooper said last week.

Co-owner David Trone spent more than $13 million of his own money this year on an unsuccessful bid to be the Democratic nominee for the 8th Congressional District.

Under current law, David and his brother Robert cannot own any other Maryland stores because each is the licensee for an existing store, one in Laurel and one in Towson. As written, the bill would allow each brother to apply for licenses in the county, a point raised by state Del. Benjamin Kramer.

“The beer and wine stores in Montgomery County are one of the last vestiges of mom-and-pop businesses that exist,” Kramer said. The arrival of big box retailers has forced many smaller businesses to close, but small liquor stores have been able to thrive, he said.

Although Barkley, a Germantown Democrat, portrayed Total Wine as a local employer, Kramer questioned how deep their roots were in the county if they were contemplating a move out of state. Barkley said it’s not atypical for businesses to consider out-of-state options when planning an expansion; it didn’t mean the company’s roots weren’t here.

“The owners live in Montgomery County. We are committing to growing our business in Montgomery,” said Charles Washington, Total Wine’s director of government affairs and industry relations.

Gino Renne, president of UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, also opposed the bill.

“We don’t need to be handing the Trone brothers a Christmas gift,” he said.

However, he said his union could soften its position if the bill limited stores to 2,500 square feet, and that large alcohol retailers allow unions to try to organize their workers.

Under current law, Class A licensees can operate stores up to 10,000 square feet in size, though Renne estimated most county stores are much smaller than that. 

The county's separate House and Senate delegations will consider the bill. If approved, it will be introduced.

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