Rochester, N.Y. – Wegmans is so far losing the fight to legalize wine sales in grocery stores. Could it be quietly campaigning for chain liquor stores instead?
“What we’re worried about is the fact that it’s possible they’re going to try to get multiple licenses if the wine and grocery store issue doesn’t come to fruition,” said Mike Palmeri, owner of Marketview Liquor.
The concern ramped up with the news Whitehouse Liquor is moving from its longtime Monroe Ave. location into Wegmans-owned space next to the Marketplace store. Whitehouse is owned by the sister of Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman, Gail Tobin.
New York State law does not allow wine sales in grocery stores and it does not permit more than one liquor license per person. Liquor stores are not allowed to buy in bulk, mingle funds or store goods for each other.
Wegmans has long been accused of getting around those laws because there are several Wegmans family members who own their own stores. Century Wines, owned by Danny Wegman’s daughter, uses the Wegmans logo.
“There are ways to get around things,” said Palmeri. “Are they breaking the law? No.”
Whitehouse’s move makes it the fourth liquor store in New York State with close ties to Wegmans. The Marketplace store is accepting Whitehouse job applications. A press release announcing the store was sent by Tobin’s daughter, who works at Wegmans.
A Wegmans spokesperson said Whitehouse is totally separate and noted Whitehouse has been in business for 30 years. Jo Natale said Danny Wegman and his late father long wanted the store to move into one their plazas, but the timing had never been right.
Before granting a relocation license to Whitehouse Liquor, the State Liquor Authority questioned Tobin about the store’s ties to Wegmans. The SLA had gotten a complaint from Henrietta Discount Liquor, located in the plaza next door to Marketplace. During a board meeting
earlier this month, the SLA read allegations accusing Wegmans of running a de facto liquor store chain, buying liquor in bulk, requiring stores to buy from the same sales representatives and using Wegmans corporate offices to run the businesses.
“It’s alleging that they’re all connected and that they’re all illegally part of the overall Wegmans business,” said a board member.
“We’ve been in business 30 years, long before Century moved,” Tobin told the board. “We’ve been completely our own entity.”
The state granted the license. Henrietta Discount Liquor’s owners declined comment to 13WHAM News.
The son-in-law of Danny Wegman and his business partner were recently denied a liquor license in Maryland
, which has similar laws to New York, for a liquor store that would have been located on the second floor of a Wegmans store.
Whitehouse is moving from a 10,000 square foot store with 5,000 square feet of retail space to a 37,000 square foot store with 12,000 square feet of retail space. Tobin told the SLA the recession caused a drop in business at her Monroe Ave. store, but her attorney told the board there is more traffic at the new location.
Marketview’s Palmeri, who noted Wegmans can give favorable leases to family members, suspects Wegmans will lobby the state to issue multiple licenses and use its existing network to justify the change.
“I don’t have the corporate cash that Wegmans or Tops that any of these big conglomerates have, so I won’t be able to compete nor would any other retailer like me.”