If the ancient Greeks were right and there really is a god of wine – Dionysius – then surely he must have a soft spot for Robert and David Trone. This is not because their company of Total Wine & More has 210 stores throughout the U.S. with a total revenue of $4.5 billion. Nor is it because they founded the largest privately-owned wine and spirit company in the country. And not even because their stores offer 8,000 different wines, 3,000 different spirits, gifts, accessories and even cigars.
No, the reason they may be earning the approval of the gods is that both brothers, through in-kind and monetary donations from their stores and through their individual family foundations, have donated $100 million to different philanthropies. In the words of David, “Total Wine & More has allowed us to go into philanthropy and into Congress.”
The Trones' story began growing up on a 200-acre working farm in East Berlin, Pennsylvania. The five Trone children helped their father run the chicken and hog operation of the farm. Unfortunately, the farm went into bankruptcy but their mother salvaged the soda and beer store started by their father. This store would prove the beginning of the family's later foray into the beer and wine business.
Both David and his brother Robert attended The University of Pennsylvania, with David earning his MBA there and Robert earning his undergraduate and his law degrees from the university. While at Penn David opened Beer World, a beer-only retailer in 1984. He eventually opened additional stores in Pennsylvania and then two more stores in Delaware, where the state law was more flexible for individuals owning more than one beer outlet. His brother Robert joined him and the business expanded into what is today Total Wine & More. The business covers sixty major markets in the U.S. and, according to David, there are a group of employees in all their stores who work on their town's philanthropies.
Total Wine worked with around 10,000 nonprofits last year by participating in individual charities' fundraising efforts. For example they will purchase a table at a fundraiser, supply the wine, offer wine-tasting classes, even sponsor trips – “These are all different ways that our people can be a part of their community,” notes David. In 2016 both Trones decided to step aside and bring in a professional CEO and a fiduciary board to run the company, allowing them more time to focus on philanthropy.
To continue their history of giving both Trones set up family foundations: The David and June Family Foundation and the Robert and Anna Family Foundation. David and June have been staunch supporters of the ACLU since 1994. In 2015 they donated $15 million to the organization to promote criminal justice reform and established the Trone Center for Justice and Equality at the organization's national headquarters. In 2017 their foundation gifted $2.5 million to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. The Trones’ donation will be used to support mental and behavioral health services, including addiction treatment and renovations to the crisis outpatient and inpatient units. They also pledged $5 million to establish the Trone Family Public Policy Intiative Fund at their alma mater, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
David, a Democrat, decided that he could do more good by running for Congress and “helping people who don't have a voice”, which he did twice, first in Maryland's 8th congressional district in 2016 (where he ran unsuccessfully) and then in Maryland's 6th congressional district in 2018, winning that seat. He has focused on sponsoring bills for several causes he is passionate about, especially mental health and the disease of addiction – he lost a 24-year old nephew to depression and a drug overdose in 2016.
He has also sponsored bills aimed at helping previously incarcerated individuals get education and jobs. This cause also stems from personal experience where he was involved in legal proceedings stemming from expansion of his stores. It made him realize that many people didn't have his resources to hire good legal counsel and were subsequently jailed, sometimes unfairly. His empathy for these prisoners and the fact that “82 percent of people who are imprisoned are people of color” taught him early on that “the system isn't fair for many of our citizens.” In addition to these causes he is also working to lead the charge to provide more funding for NIH.
Brother Robert Trone married Anna Parisi, whose parents were from Italy, in 1998. The Robert Trones are also heavily involved in local philanthropy. Anna has supported The Washington Ballet and the Washington School of Ballet, where their daughter Sophia took classes. They have also contributed to Bethesda’s Imagination Stage. Robert has served on the board of Catholic Charities of D.C. and they are supporters of Mercy Health Clinic in Gaithersburg. In keeping with David's statement that “children are our focus,” Robert and Anna have been generous donors to Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, the school Sophia attended until her graduation in June.
Robert and Anna's generosity led The Community Foundation in Montgomery County to name them Philanthropists of the Year for 2015. “Once the Trones get involved they make an investment and they make a difference,” according to C. Marie Taylor, who was executive director of the Community Foundation at the time.
No doubt the Trones' philanthropy will keep the gods smiling for some time to come!