On August 11, Trader Joe’s abruptly shuttered its Manhattan Wine Shop, which was located in Union Square and considered a staple by many (a younger, cooler version of myself included). The closure has raised a lot of questions, and the conversation has grown complicated. Some, including some employees of the store, are claiming the Wine Shop crew was about to vote to unionize and Trader Joe’s allegedly shut down the store in retaliation. Here’s what we know so far.
- The store’s closure was announced to the public via a sign on its door, which said the company had decided it was time to “explore another location that will allow us to optimize the potential of our one and only license to sell wine in New York.” In New York State, grocers can sell beer, but chains can only sell liquor at one location. (Wine is classified as liquor in the state.)
- The sign said employees would be paid for their shifts through August 28 and that they would be contacted about the possibility of transferring to another Trader Joe’s location in the city.
- It appears store employees were not made aware of the closure before it happened. Jonathan Reuning, a crew member of five years, told HuffPo the store’s “hasty demise” was “completely out of character” for the company. HuffPo described another worker as “blindsided” when he learned about the closure.
- That HuffPo article, which has now been cited by other news outlets, reported that crew members from the shuttered wine store had been in the process of organizing a union vote. In that article, some crew members accuse Trader Joe’s of closing the store because of that effort.
- Crew members have created a petition asking Trader Joe’s to reopen the location.
- Several Trader Joe’s locations have unionized, very recently. In July, the store’s Hadley, Massachusetts location became the first to form a union. On August 12—the day after the wine store was shuttered—a location in Minneapolis became the second to unionize.
- In the HuffPo article that quotes the United Food & Commercial Workers union’s claims of Trader Joe’s union busting, a worker was asked why the company would close the wine store for exploring a union but not the Hadley or Minneapolis stores. The article paraphrases the worker’s reply: “he believes it would be less disruptive to the company’s business to close a wine store as opposed to one of its grocery stores.”
- Trader Joe’s said in a statement to Gothamist, published August 18, that the closure was not related to the unionization effort. “Trader Joe’s respects our crew’s right to support a union – or not,” the statement said. “Our decision to close the Union Square wine shop resulted from a long-term review of how best to optimize our one and only license to sell wine in New York state, and to best meet the needs of our grocery customers in the neighborhood.”
- Reddit user u/davejim, who identified themselves as a former Trader Joe’s Wine Store employee, said there have been longstanding issues with NYU, which owns the building. “The wine store had to jump through hoops constantly to keep NYU happy,” they wrote. “In fact, the wine store even has the license to sell their TJs brand liquor that you see in other states but NYU wouldn’t allow them to sell it due to their proximity to underage college students. If anything, we’ll see the wine store pop-up somewhere else in Manhattan, probably adjacent to one of the existing grocery stores, and I promise it’ll be a way better store than it was now that it’s out of NYU’s grasp.”
- It appears the grocery portion of the store, which is next to the wine store, isn’t closing imminently. In a statement published by CBS News on August 19, the same spokesperson said the former wine store space would be utilized by the Trader Joe’s grocery store for the upcoming holiday season, and Trader Joe’s does have intentions of opening a new wine store. “For our loyal wine shop customers, we are actively looking for another location that will allow us to sell wine in New York and look forward to welcoming you into our new TJ’s wine shop as soon as possible.”
So as of now, it is not clear where, or whether, the Trader Joe’s Wine Shop will reemerge, or if it will be a unionized store when and if it does. What is clear is that for now, New Yorkers will need to take a road trip to get their hands on Two Buck Chuck.