Much like the estates of many of our producers, Liquor Locker of Westport, Connecticut has been in the family for years. "Forty-four years," says Harvey Skolnick, the wine shop's proprietor, "that's what my ex-wife told me. At the time this was Main Street, and basically the only street. There was very little...we had three liquor stores, three hardware stores, three supermarkets and two pharmacies, and everyone owned their own stores." This is a serious contrast to what Main St. has become. Much like lower Broadway in NYC and downtown East Hampton, this Main Street in Westport is lined with one luxury box store after another, providing our man Harvey with an eye-witness account of the transformation that has affected "Main St." in America. And though his lips were sealed to the many "secrets" that his four walls held, Harvey has also witnessed the transformation of America's relationship to wine.
When Harvey took over the shop from his father, who was ready to retire from retail, forty-four years ago, "It was a liquor store," he says, "we might have had some Gallo and Chianti in wicker baskets." But Harvey was young and interested in wine. He read and he tasted, working with a lot of distributors who tasted him through their wines. "We were ahead of our times in that day," says Harvey. There were "no other wine stores."
From Gallo and Chianti, Harvey branched out to wines from California, France and Italy. As these markets developed, his offerings developed with them. With the economic downturn in 2008, a lot of his clients suffered losses, forcing them to buy less while they drank what they already had. These days, he's not selling as many French labels, but is instead focused on California, Italy and South America. And, just as he's developed with the times for the past 44 years, Harvey realizes that it's time to move on.
This spring, he'll be relocating the store away from Main Street, which Harvey feels isn't as dynamic as it used to be. "I've had a good run, it's time to move on," he says as darkness hit the pavement outside. When he relocates to a short drive away, Harvey will institute other changes, such as joining the social media community. As he and a recent hire work to develop an online presence, including local sales, Harvey will remain a small wholesaler,with an emphasis on personal relationships (he's had some of the same clients for 35 years!). "I keep tasting," he says, before rushing off to meet a sales rep from another distributor. "I've got come Barolos and Brunellos...but no one's bringing around expensive Bordeaux's any more."
[Where: Liquor Locker, 68 Main St., Westport, CT 06880]