After weeks of tension, wine and liquor vendors near the soon-to-open Whole Foods, at West 97th Street and Columbus Avenue, have reached an agreement to work with the natural-food chain.
Up until last week, the local merchants opposed Whole Foods’ plans to open a wine shop 30 feet away from the main store. But after realizing that the State Liquor Authority will “probably approve the license, we have decided to work cooperatively with them,” said Iris Sandow, owner of Columbus Wines, on 96th Street and Columbus Avenue.
Whole Foods will promote the liquors sold by the local stores, while these shops will use the natural-food chain’s products in their events. However, concerns remain.
“There is a requirement that a new license be issued only when the public convenience is being served,” Sandow said. “In this case, there are 15 stores in the immediate vicinity that carry an impressive array of products, from organic to kosher.”
However, Christina Minardi, Whole Foods’ northeast regional president, said that the 2,000-square-foot Whole Foods shop will only sell wines, with a special focus on New York products, while the surrounding 15 stores also sell hard liquor. Moreover, the natural-food chain doesn’t “see a saturation of [wine shops] in the area because of the new residential developments and the people that will be moving to them.”
This is Whole Foods’ third attempt to open a wine shop in Manhattan. In 2005, the Columbus Circle store had to close its wine shop because it did not have a separate entrance; according to state law, liquor and wine shops are required to have a separate entrance and are not allow to sell grocery items.
A year later, when the company tried to open a wine shop near its Bowery supermarket, local leaders and merchants opposed. After a recommendation from Community Board 3, the State Liquor Authority denied Whole Foods the retail license.
Although liquor vendors near the West 97th Street store hoped that Community Board 7 would take a similar approach, this time the situation is different. Two weeks ago, two of the three members of the authority’s board abstained from granting the license so that Whole Foods could meet with Board 7. The meeting took place last week, as a part of the board’s Park West Village Coordinator Group agenda, but no decision was made. Chair Helen Rosenthal said that the board could not write a letter or make a recommendation to the authority because they normally do not review freestanding liquor licenses.
“What we can do is bring together the parties involved, to get them to talk to common ground, and I think we achieved this with the meeting,” Rosenthal said.
At press time, the authority said that the board will continue with its schedule and vote on the license on June 10.
“It will now be up to the full board whether to grant any further adjournments or not,” said William Crowley, an authority spokesman.
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