Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:00 pm
Total Wine & More, a Bethesda, Md.,-based big-box chain that sells wine, beer and spirits, did not receive the welcome it was expecting from the city of Brookfield Tuesday night.
The city voted 8-5 against the store’s request for a Class B liquor license, instead granting Total Wine a Class A license. By doing so, Total Wine will not be able to conduct its weekly wine tastings and classes, which make up roughly 20 percent of the store’s revenue and is part of the overall customer experience, said David Trone, Total Wine & More’s co-founder and president.
“We really love Brookfield, and think we will do great there,” Trone said. “But we were led to believe when we first met with the city, that we would be given a Class B license. I’m in 21 states and will have 150 stores open by the end of the year. They said build the store first, and we’ll give you the license – I’ve never done it that way. And somehow, 30 days before we open, we don’t get the license.”
Total Wine is leasing 27,495 square feet at Calhoun Crossing, a retail redevelopment project in Brookfield. So far, Total Wine has invested nearly $2 million in the Brookfield location and plans to hire 50 people for the store, which opens Nov. 10.
Under the Class A license, Total Wine will be allowed to serve a customer two 3-ounce samples of wine or beer or one ½-ounce sample of liquor.
The company is also planning locations at the former Sears store site at Bayshore Town Center in Glendale and at the new 84 South development in Greenfield, as well as stores in Madison.
Brookfield Mayor Steven Ponto said Class A licenses are given to liquor stores and Class B licenses are reserved for restaurants. The city has one regular Class B license left and six reserve licenses, which cost $10,000 for operators, Ponto said.
“With all of the restrictions state government has put on us with our levy restraints, the one way municipalities have to deal with our budget issues is to grow the economic base,” Ponto said. “If we have a hotel come in, we have to be able to offer them a Class B license for a restaurant. If one restaurant closes and another operator wants to come in to fill the space, we need that license. Those are the appropriate uses.”
As far as the early promise of a Class B license, Ponto said city staff spoke with Total Wine in December 2015, about a Class A license. In August, the city learned Total Wine would be seeking a Class B license, Ponto said.
The Town of Waukesha offered to sell one of its Class B liquor licenses to the city of Brookfield for $250,000, which Trone said he would have paid for.
John Marek, chairman of the Town of Waukesha, said the town has several liquor licenses that it will probably never use so he spoke to Trone and Ponto on Monday and offered to transfer one to the City of Brookfield.
“Total Wine said absolutely, and the mayor said thank you and he would let me know,” Marek said. “I’m actually shocked (Brookfield) didn’t allow Total Wine to operate the way they wanted when it wasn’t going to affect their liquor license count.”
Trone also says he asked the city if he could buy out an existing restaurant in the city to obtain its license.
Brookfield rejected both ideas.
“It’s bizarre, but also shows how valuable these licenses are,” Ponto said. “If we were to agree, it sets a bad precedent. My concern is grocery stores with large liquor departments would want Class B licenses.”
Ponto said Total Wine and others wanting a Class B license should go to the state Legislature and ask for the liquor license law to be changed.
“People don’t want to go to Madison because there are powerful forces there,” he said. “But we’re not going to be brow beaten into doing something that is inappropriate and that could hurt our ability to attract future development.”
As far as Total Wine’s future in Brookfield, Trone can reapply for a Class B license in June, which he intends to do.
“The (wine tastings and classes for customers) experience makes our stores a cut above the rest,” he said. “We’ll take our case to the people, hope they call the mayor and when it comes up for renewal in June, maybe we’ll win our case.”