The battle between two local liquor stores — one largely frequented by college students and the other popular among higher-income locals — is rooted in an all-too-common drama: location, location, location.
College Wine, which currently sits on the corner of College and Crown streets, was scheduled to move its store to a new location on Chapel Street this March. Although the city granted College Wine zoning approval for the relocation, Karl Ronne, the owner of Crown Street liquor store The Wine Thief, filed an appeal in January opposing the approval.
At the most basic level, Ronne’s appeal is based on the liquor law prohibiting two liquor stores from being built within less than 1,500 feet from one another, which will be the case after College Wine’s relocation.
But Ronne said his fundamental objection to College Wine’s relocation to 936 Chapel St., across the street from Caffe Bottega, is not that the liquor store will be too close to his store, but that it will be situated in one of the most prominent public spaces in New Haven — something he said is negative for the city’s image.
“Me and other business owners in New Haven object to the Chapel Street location because it is not a favorable thing for the city to have that kind of a store on its main street,” Ronne explained.
He added that he thinks Yale would also prefer to see higher-end retail stores, rather than a liquor store, in that area.
But Sanjay Patil, owner of College Wine, said he does not see why this distance should become a problem when he relocates. He said that because College Wine’s current location is close to the Wine Thief, Ronne should not fight College Wine’s move.
“I was here first,” Patil said. “I’m here for 20 years. He is not 1,500 feet from me. Why can’t my new store be next to him?”
While the legal issue remains unresolved Patil will not be able to move his store, even though his present location will soon be demolished.
Patil said that College Wine serves student demand while The Wine Thief addresses customers with higher incomes, so competition over clientele should not be an issue.
Saad Rizvi ’08, a customer at College Wine, suggested that The Wine Thief may have ulterior motives in filing the appeal.
“College Wine is definitely more popular among Yale students and a lot of people haven’t heard of The Wine Thief,” Rizvi said. “This suing business could just be a way for The Wine Thief to make more money by selling to people who normally buy from College Wine.”
College Wine was forced to move because its building will be demolished and replaced by the College Square Development, a 19-story residential unit that will occupy the entire block.
The College Square Development is a private enterprise, which means the city is not responsible for relocating tenants from the buildings that will be demolished, Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said. Still, the city has helped College Wine and other retailers find new locations in accordance with its retail recruitment and retention program.
Scott Healy, director of New Haven Town Green Special Services District, emphasized that Patil was not relocated to Chapel Street by the city, but rather that he chose his new location from among several choices suggested to him. Healy also said the silent majority does not want a liquor store in such an iconic public space in New Haven.
“In every city in the world there are certain places that are symbolic, even sacred — places where you want the city’s aspirations to shine,” he explained. “The Green is that kind of a space. Locating a liquor store there leaves a disproportionate impression about New Haven.”
The Chapel Street location which may soon house College Wine was formerly a tattoo shop.