Volume 75, Number 4 | June 15- 21, 2005

Whole Foods wine store could be whole lot of trouble for small guys

By Ellen Keohane

When Frank Giresi, his wife and his business partner first opened their wine and liquor store in 1989 on Elizabeth St. in what is today called Nolita, the block was overrun with heroin and crack, Giresi said. Now their store, Elizabeth & Vine, is tucked between Soho Baby and a Nike iD Design Boutique. And Giresi’s biggest concern isn’t drugs on the block, but the impending arrival of a 5,000-square-foot Whole Foods wine shop on E. Houston St.

In 2006, a two-floor Whole Foods is scheduled to open at Avalon Christie Place on E. Houston St. between Christie St. and the Bowery. Kate Lowery, a spokesperson for Whole Foods, confirmed that the new store is in the process of applying for a liquor license for a separate 5,000-square-foot wine shop at the E. Houston location. The wine shop will be a “perfect compliment to our food selection,” she said.

This would be the fourth Whole Foods Market to open in Manhattan. The high-end supermarket chain, which specializes in natural and organic foods, already has markets in Union Sq., Chelsea and Columbus Circle. The Texas-based company has a total of 170 locations throughout North America and the United Kingdom.

The Whole Foods Columbus Circle store used to have a wine shop, but on May 9, it had to surrender its liquor license to the State Liquor Authority, said Kimberly Morella of the S.L.A.’s public affairs office in an e-mail message. “The wine shop that had been located in Columbus Circle was granted a license under what was determined to be inaccurate information,” said Morella. “The location did not separate its ‘Whole Foods Market’ operation and its wine shop.”

In addition to surrendering its license, which was placed in “safekeeping” with the authority, Whole Foods also had to pay a civil penalty of $5,000. According to state law, not more than one retail liquor license can be granted to any one individual, corporation or company.

They shouldn’t be allowed to have a liquor license after they lost their license at the Columbus store,” Giresi said. Having a wine shop next to a grocery store would be “unfair competition,” he said.

“I’m afraid they’re going to meet a lot of resistance,” said Ellisa Cooper, one of the owners of Discovery Wines, a wine shop that opened in September at 10 Avenue A in the East Village. “The vast majority of retailers — even into Soho — want to block this,” she said.

The proposed Whole Foods liquor store will come before Community Board 3’s Housing, Land Disposition, Zoning and NYC Housing Authority Committee on June 15. “There’s an understanding that there would not be a liquor license at that site,” said Susan Stetzer, district manager of C.B. 3. “We had asked for something that would serve the community.”

“Our livelihoods are in danger,” said Giresi. If the proposed Whole Foods wine shop will be 10 times the size of Elizabeth & Vine, “it’s going to knock us out of business,” he said.

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