Total Wine Advances Ass-First into Woodbury

A collection of beer bottles and beer cans sitting on a table in a home in Minnesota

Oh, we sure got a laugh last week when the United States soccer team was outkicked by zee Germans yet marched on in the World Cup. The running joke was that ‘Merica wins, even when ‘Merica loses. We’re perfectly okay with an ass-first advance.

Most of the time.

If your hind end was in the Woodbury city council chamber Wednesday night, you were treated to a goulash of bad sentences, ill-fitting suits, and the acquisition of liquor licenses by three businesses. One, all-you-can-eat sushi house; another, Lund’s Grocery. Once Rainbow Fresh fades to black, the Lunds can leap on in there and put up one of those pathetic liquor nooks the cool grocery kids have nowadays.

The other went to Total Wine and More, Liquor Wal-Mart, sinister squisher of little men, all that is evil in retail. Woodbury’s artisan wineries and cutesy liquor boutiques will dissolve like a fleeting dream, leaving us doomed to a life of Total Wine patronage. The alcohol terrorists have won. At least that’s what folks are telling themselves.

Before we get into that, let’s recap the fight. BUT FIRST, let’s thank Woodbury Bulletin reporter Riham Feshir for keeping up with that three-hour meeting while her deadline crept closer and closer and delivering a good story without losing her head. Local journalists don’t get enough credit.

NOW, the fight:

In-between stutters and murmurs, Total Wine’s contingent gave you a basic reading of what a company in this position should say. They took time to applaud themselves for such exploits as not having forklifts roving the aisles, paying well (and, moments later, giving full-time employees 50 hours per week so they didn’t have to find a second job), and having a store so magical that shoppers come from Wisconsin to the Roseville store.

The Anti-Total Coalition approached the podium, and their opening statement contained “More is always not better.” No, really. That’s exactly how that was said. A lineup of Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) members, opposing store owners, and the community at large claimed that another liquor store in town — especially one with low prices — could increase the number of problem drinkers and accelerate Woodbury’s descent into a homogenized, big box-driven hamster maze. Total’s ethical hiccups and allegations of predatory pricing came up aplenty.

Other speakers included a woman, who needs her boutique stores to survive because her mature palate can’t handle mass-produced wines; and a Roseville business owner who bemoaned Total’s opening “1,200 feet” from his liquor store (so, about a quarter-mile).

I couldn’t keep up with the number of Minnesotans speaking out against Total Wine. Not counting employees, development landlords, and attorneys, I don’t recall a single one who spoke out in favor. Woodbury’s city council and city attorney then discussed Total’s business history — using such delicious language as “financing arm” and “non-felony violations” — before deciding the store satisfied state statutes and city ordinances, and granting them a license.

To quote the introduction of Feshir’s article, “Woodbury City Council members said they didn’t see a reason not to.”

The opposition left with drooped heads and mutters. On their way out, they got to walk past Total’s representatives as they smiled and snapped photographs. You’d think Total Wine had just conquered Woodbury. You’d think small business was good as dead everywhere.

Neither are true.

First, where Total Wine is opening up, the only nearby competitors are the local MGM Booze Mausoleum (40 locations statewide) and the above-stated pathetic nook. Anybody with a vulnerable business in this vicinity has been ground up under the wheels already, alas.

As for the fate of the remaining stores, you’ll never believe this but you’re in control of it.

As a business owner, you must now ask yourself: Have I serviced my customers well enough to retain them? If you didn’t, time to wake up. Your customers CAN afford to do business with you; that’s why they’re your customers today. Total Wine can’t take a single one ’till they open their doors. You’ve got time.

I’ll use myself as an example. Total Wine will be in my backyard, but I won’t shop there. I might check it out once it’s open for the souvenir pin or whatever, but my beer scratch is spoken for. It’s a matter of loyalty. I enjoy the experiences and have gotten to know the people at “my” retailers, and won’t abandon them because it’s a dollar cheaper at Total.

There are plenty of shoppers like me out there, and business owners need to recognize them and do what it takes to keep them on board. There are plenty of little guys who’ve carved out their place in the liquor community. Talk to them. If you can’t evolve to meet market needs, your customer deserves an option like Total.

Customers need to make a decision, too. If you support small business, you’ve got to walk the walk. Nobody else is responsible for keeping your favorite store open. The power doesn’t lie in Total Wine’s forklift-free aisles, and it doesn’t lie in a council chamber. It lies in you. It’s always been that way.