McCaffrey’s Supermarket at the Princeton Shopping Center is in the process of purchasing the retail liquor license owned by CoolVines, the wine shop that just closed on Spring Street, so that the supermarket can start selling alcoholic beverages.
Tonight at the Princeton Council’s 7 p.m. public meeting, the governing body will vote on a resolution authorizing the transfer of the plenary retail consumption license from CoolVines, also known as Princeton Wines, LLC, to Princeton Market, Inc., which is McCaffrey’s.
With the move, McCaffrey’s would become more competitive with grocers like Wegman’s and Trader Joe’s, which both sell alcohol. But at least one locally owned business is worried that the move will destroy the family’s business.
Claridge Wines and Liquor, a family-owned business located in the shopping center for two decades, has written a letter to the municipality opposing the sale.
“Our family lives, works and shops in Princeton and the surrounding area. In addition, Claridge has been a long-time solid corporate citizen of Princeton, maintaining a retail wine and liquor store at the shopping center for over twenty years,” reads the letter. “Claridge has remained at the shopping center in the face of an economic down-turns and despite other vacancies that have persisted at the shopping center. Indeed, just this past year, upon PNC Bank’s move from its prior location adjacent to Claridge we agreed to a ten-year lease extension and amendment, whereby Claridge expanded its footprint to include PNC’s prior location.”
The extension and amendment just began in September, according to the letter written by Raj Patel, who said the move entailed a substantial financial commitment, in order to renovate and expand Claridge by an additional 50 percent.
“Prior to and throughout our renovation process, Claridge was not informed that McCaffery’s intended to engage in the retail distribution of wine and liquor products. McCaffery’s did not approach us to discuss a sale of our license or any other potential strategies which would prevent Claridge’s financial demise – an inevitable result if McCaffery’s decision is approved by the mayor and council,” Patel wrote. “With the benefit of over twenty years of industry experience, it is unheard of for one shopping center to have two retailers that sell package goods. Indeed, other townships in New Jersey have limitations on the geographic distance between retailers of such products, no matter whether such retailers are in the same shopping center or simply the same geographic area.”
Patel argues that given the scarcity of plenary retail distribution licenses in the municipality, as a matter of policy and planning an allowance of the transfer would not in the public’s interest, leaving one area of Princeton without such a retail license, while compressing two such licenses in one shopping center, “with one destined to fail.”
John F. Vassallo, the lawyer for McCaffrey’s, submitted a response to the council, arguing that the council’s decision can’t be based on a desire to protect one economic interest over another, or on speculation.
“Although an existing licensee may prefer to remain the only seller of alcoholic beverages at a certain location or within a specific perimeter, the governing body may not use the concerns arising from the advent of economic or free-market competition as a consideration to deny a transfer of the License,” wrote Vassallo. “Here, the sole objection is made by a licensee who will be a competitor of the applicant. Such self-serving objections from a competitor are not persuasive, and are to be afforded little or no weight when determining if it expresses ‘community sentiment’.”
Vassallo argues that transferring the license to the shopping center “actually results in a greater spread of plenary retail distribution licenses throughout Princeton than presently exists.”
“There would be no such ‘compressing’ of licenses in that there would remain four plenary retail distribution licenses in the downtown area and there would be two in the Princeton Shopping Center, albeit at opposite ends of the shopping center and located in different models of retailing enterprises,” he wrote. “By transferring the License as requested by the Applicant, it will not ‘leave one area of Princeton without such a retail license’.”
The other plenary retail consumption liquor license locations in Princeton are at: 49 Hulfish Street, 23 Witherspoon Street, 264 Nassau Street, and 234 Nassau Street.