Fight brewing over Johnson City liquor store

By Dave Greber

January 4, 2014 Updated Jan 4, 2014 at 1:01 AM EDT

Johnson City, N.Y. (WBNG Binghamton) A wholesale liquor store set to open later this month could force the closure of nearby liquor stores, or even lead its owners to violate state laws, according to a would-be competitor.

That competitor, Richard Vlasik, owns Chenango Wine & Liquor LLC, which runs Oakdale Wine & Liquor. The petition his attorneys filed Monday in Supreme Court in Broome County said the state's liquor authority overstepped its bounds when issuing a license for a highly anticipated store.

The liquor license was approved for Johnson City Partners in September and issued in December, according to court records.

Johnson City Wine Partners owns the more than 15,000-square-foot liquor store that shares its 650 Harry L. Drive address with Wegmans.

The petition said the liquor store next to Wegmans would over saturate an already congested market of stores that sell high-powered booze. It said the wholesale liquor store would hurt the seven other liquor stores already located within a four-mile radius in Johnson City.

"Not only will a store of this size unlevel the playing field and upset any equilibrium with existing stores in the area, but also, the public's convenience and advantage is being more than adequately served -- if not over served -- by the seven preexisting liquor stores in that area, some of which report a decline in gross revenue," according to the petition.

The petition says unnecessary financial pressure by a new store opening could lead to malfeasance.

It says the New York State Liquor Authority "needs to consider the potential for liquor law violations as these businesses vie with one another for decreased or decreasing business and face increasing financial pressure."

The petition does not say whether any law-breaking is happening currently because of the seven existing stores.

The petition also suggests the majority partner of the liquor store, Jason Wehle -- son-in-law of Wegmans grocery majority owner and CEO Dan Wegman -- has a number of conflicts of interest that should have prohibited him from obtaining a liquor license.

Court papers say Wehle already owns two liquor stores in New Jersey, and works full-time at Wegmans' corporate headquarters in Rochester.

The petition says Wehle "misrepresented and/or deliberately withheld key facts" in his application for a liquor license, specifically leaving out his affiliation with Wegmans or a liquor brand they own and sell, referred to in court records as "W Vodka."

The petition says Johnson City Partners paid one store owner located less than 2.5 miles away, Cory Enterprises, "approximately $200,000 to close its store."

Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natalie declined late Friday to respond to specific allegations contained in the petition, saying only, "There are a number of inaccuracies."

"This appears to be nothing more than a competitor trying to block a new store," Natalie said.

The case has been issued to Supreme Court Justice Hon. Ferris D. Lebous, according to the court clerk's office. Hearing dates had not been set as of late Friday.

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