Addys Wine & Spirits moved just half a mile down the road when it relocated next to a Wegmans supermarket and pub on Transit Road in East Amherst last month.
But it was close enough that Premier Group member Premium Wine & Spirits took notice.
Premium this week filed a lawsuit against Addys and the State Liquor Authority claiming the liquor store's application to relocate and expand should never have been approved. Premium alleges Addys is backed by Wegmans and its money, creating an unfair playing field between the two liquor stores. It cited, among other things, the fact that Wegmans paid for the build-out of the new Addys space on Wegmans property.
"This is yet another example of Wegmans making another concerted effort to avoid the spirit of the beverage control law," said Matthew Miller, an attorney representing Jonmark Corp., which does business as Premium.
Premium seeks to overturn the liquor authority approval for Addys new store.
Though Wegmans is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, the grocer is referred to as an "indispensable player."
The lawsuit claims the liquor authority didn't properly review criteria for Addys application to relocate a half mile from Premium. Miller said the population hasn't grown to support additional retail wine sales, and the products offered in the store wouldn't be different than those in stores already serving the area and the area is already completely saturated.
"This is about the overcrowding of highly regulated products and services," said Miller. "That's a concern that should've been flagged by the SLA and wasn't."
Addys owner Louis Mulone said Premium Wine & Spirits owner Mark Notarius has the story twisted.
Mulone said at 11,500 square feet, Addys new location is less than half the size of Premium.
"It's like David and Goliath. I don't understand why they're so concerned about me," Mulone said. "I'm just a little guy trying to make a living and raise my four kids."
As for Wegmans bankrolling or influencing his business? Mulone says no way. Yes, he said, Wegmans paid for the store's build-out as the site's landlord. The grocer, he said, is just a landlord and has no hand in running his business.
Notarius isn't the first to suggest Wegmans is skirting liquor laws with its liquor store agreements, which put Wegman family members or employees at the helm of liquor stores near Wegmans supermarkets. A Wegmans spokeswoman said there's no merit to those accusations.
"We are absolutely not skirting New York State law. Liquor stores have made these types of allegations dozens of times in the past to both the SLA and the courts, and they have been proven false," said Jo Natale, a Wegmans spokeswoman.
The lawsuit alleges the State Liquor Authority should not have granted Addys application to relocate because it did not meet the proper criteria for "public convenience or advantage," which takes into consideration whether the area surrounding the new location is already well served by existing liquor stores, the distance from existing stores and gross sales. The criteria also looks at population and demographic changes and whether products at the new store will be redundant with products at existing stores.
Other applicants have been denied expansion, relocation or new licensing on less compelling grounds, Miller said. Recently, the liquor authority denied applications by Budwey's Wine & Spirits, JK Singh and Walden Express because the market area they applied to do business in was already being served by four stores within four miles. At the time of Addys application, Premium's market area was served by six stores within three miles.
A spokesman for the State Liquor Authority said the agency had not yet been served by the lawsuit and would not yet comment.
Mulone said he has already had to downsize his store size after Notarius objected to it at a public hearing and is a much smaller operation than Premier, which operates in an advertising partnership with liquor stores that are independently owned by his family members.
"Apparently he's afraid of competition," Mulone said.
Addys moved from 8584 Transit Road in East Amherst to 8268 Transit Road, next to a Wegmans supermarket and pub. It opened Nov. 19. Premium is located at 7900 Transit Road.
Jonmark Corp. filed the lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court Wednesday.