Ithaca, N.Y. — A fight is brewing over a proposed Wegmans expansion that some local merchants fear will be filled by a liquor store.

Representatives of two Ithaca wine retailers spoke out against the Wegmans expansion at City Hall Tuesday night, saying the space — if filled by a liquor store — could destroy their local businesses.

Wegmans has not said what the expansion would be used for, and the owners of the local liquor stores admit that they don’t know, either.

However, the local merchants say Wegmans’ proposed 15,700-square-foot outbuilding on South Meadow Street appears similar in many ways to other liquor stores connected to Wegmans in upstate NY cities.

The problem is not that the merchants fear competition or dislike Wegmans, said Dewi Rainey, of Red Feet Wine Market & Spirit.

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Instead, Rainey said, what’s unfair is that Wegmans is setting up liquor stores that essentially function as chains — even though liquor stores in New York are technically forbidden from setting up chains.

“Competition is fine; this is unfair competition,” Rainey said. “There are no chain wine stores … we’ve been prevented for 75 years from having more than 1 store.”

At a meeting of Ithaca’s planning board Tuesday, Rainey urged city officials to prevent Wegmans from “getting around the laws of the state.” She said Red Feet and its 6 employees would be wiped out if Wegmans got into the local liquor business.

Planning board members said they don’t have authority on the use of the retail space in the Wegmans expansion.

Instead, the merchants will have to make their case to Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick and Common Council — which can in turn urge the New York State Liquor Authority to reject or approve a Wegmans-affiliated liquor store.

Dana Malley, general manager of Northside Wine & Spirits, said he had collected 1,755 signatures from Northside customers related to the Wegmans liquor store.

“Northside has been in Ithaca since 1959. And I get it if Northside were some lousy liquor store that nobody went to and so on and so forth … But in this case it looks to me like a Wegmans-affiliated liquor store to just come in and replace Northside — I don’t get that,” said Malley, who later added that Northside employs about 28 people, in remarks to the board.

“If we have to go to Common Council to discuss it more I guess we should. I would strongly urge you … if you could, to put in a good word for us.”

Dan Aken, manager of site development for Wegmans, said in an interview with The Voice after the meeting that no use for retail in the space had been determined.

Wegmans has run into opposition in some locations for its liquor stores.

Writes The Buffalo News of the liquor store connected with the Wegmans there:

“It’s right on the Wegmans lot on Amherst Street. It shares parking with Wegmans. It’s co-owned by a member of the Wegman family. Even the signs announcing that it’s “Opening Winter 2014” are in Wegmans-style font.

But “Amherst St. Wine & Liquor” is not Wegmans. That would be illegal…

…A handful of other independent liquor stores have opened in or near Wegmans-owned shopping plazas. In most cases, they’re owned or co-owned by members of the Wegman family.

Century Dewitt Wine & Spirits, which opened in 2009 in the Syracuse area, is owned by Christopher O’Donnell, who is married to Colleen Wegman, president of Wegmans Food Market, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Earlier this year, Johnson City Liquor & Wine opened in the Binghamton area. “Located next to Wegmans Food Markets,” its website advertises. It is owned by Danny Wegman’s son-in-law, Jason S. Wehle, according to the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin.

From the docs submitted by Wegmans to the planning board

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.