Thursday, February 25, 2010

While many businesses close, one isn't even given the chance to open

I've watched over the last year as many of my favorite boutiques around town closed their doors. Some store owners ending their venture all together, others switching to web-based businesses in order to save money on overhead. So, needless to say, when my parents came to me and told me they were pursuing their retirement dream and opening a gourmet grocery store in Fishers, Indiana, I was more than a bit skeptical. I knew retail wasn't always easy and I knew that sometimes passion wasn't enough to be successful. However, I thought they would at least have a chance to prove me wrong.

They spent over a year researching their ideal location for WineThyme and began negotiations with Thompson Thrift to move into a new retail space at the corner of 116th and Olio Road. Thompson Thrift was more than supportive and we were all excited when the "Coming Soon" banner was hung. They filed with the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission for their wine and beer license in October 2009 and quickly made contacts with some of the best gourmet food wholesalers, wineries, beer distributors and local vendors to offer unique products.

They arrived at their initial hearing in Hamilton County on December 9, 2009 with no idea of the obstacles that would be thrown in front of them. They learned that Crown Liquors, United Package Liquors and Payless Liquors had joined forces, hired a single law firm and filed a motion to deny WineThyme a license. Citing a longstanding quota issue (permits are granted based on population in any given area) and arguing the difference between a wine store versus a gourmet grocery store, this team was ready for legal battle. With little knowledge about the history of the quota issue and not enough data supporting what other products would be sold on site, their license was denied. They believed they had every right to open a store and more determined than ever, they filed their appeal and sought out consumer support.

The more people they spoke to, the more support they found. People in the area were in need of a store like WineThyme and they began their own letter writing campaign to garner support, almost 100 letters poured in. The appeal hearing was scheduled for February 3, 2010. They filled the room with supporters: neighbors, fellow small-business owners, contractors, sub-contractors, friends and family. The hearing was scheduled for 10 a.m. and after an hour, the hearing officer appeared and informed everyone that the hearing would be rescheduled due to improper public notice. Both legal teams agreed on February 19, 2010, and the new date was set. My parents knew, in their hearts, as each day passed they were losing start-up capital while paying legal fees and the three stores were winning without just cause. It was beyond frustrating.

About a week before the scheduled hearing, the liquor stores and their legal team filed a continuance, delaying the hearing further. They contended that their lawyer had a personal obligation and they wouldn't substitute to someone else in the firm. Coincidentally, during this time lapse, the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers (Crown Liquors is a confirmed member of this Association) were petitioning to the state, pushing for clarity in the confusing 2008 quota ruling. Their primary argument is against the influx of permit applications being received by Walgreens and CVS pharmacies. The ATC now instituted a freeze on issuing permits, despite the fact that WineThyme's request has been in limbo for almost five months.

Somewhere in this mess, my parents' retirement dream of a little family-owned gourmet food and wine store got lost. Another spot in a strip mall remains empty and the "Coming Soon" sign taunts us each time we drive by.

I write this not only as an angry daughter, but as an angry consumer and an angry voter. I was raised to believe in the American dream and the idea that you can do whatever you want to do. I was taught that friendly competition kept our prices in check and gave us options as shoppers. I thought in a time of economic turmoil a new business venture would be supported by our government, not blocked by red tape. I had no idea, when I walked into one of these package liquor stores, the profits they were making from my purchase were being used to keep small competitors out of the marketplace.

I write this because I thought someone else might want to be angry too.


Anonymous said...

Whatever happens and we pray for the best outcome, we are so very proud of Aimee. She is a wonderful daughter with very passionate beliefs and we are grateful for her support. The Ash family have been with us on this journey and we appreciate everything they have done for us on this incredibly bumpy ride.
Let us keep good thoughts and look for a positive result.
We appreciate everyones time and energy in making our dream come true.
Ian and Linda Sadler

Kindra Lang said...

Well said Aimee! Hang in there. SOMETHING good has to come out of this! After reading this, I'm so disgusted by the "red-tape" your parents,and all other small business owners, have to go through. I would LOVE a store like WineThyme around this area! Good luck!

Brooke said...

Aimee, thanks for posting this. We are praying for your family and for WineThyme. It may be hard to understand now, but there is a plan. I learned a valuable lesson last week, we mature from our struggles and our problems. God never wastes expereinces. Something good will come out of this! Your family deserves the right to persue this dream!

Laura and Jeremy said...

So sorry to hear this! I know you are a determined gal so hopefully through media and people something will change!

Kristina said...

I am 100% fully supporting your battle as I too was raised to believe in the "American Dream" and to pursue all of our goals. This is very frustrating to hear about the red-tape your parents are going through to pursue their dream. I'm hoping for the best as I think that they and your family deserve it!!