As the year comes to an end, so passes an important milestone for one of Greenwich's oldest stores.
This year marked
the 70th anniversary of Cos Cob Liquor Store, the oldest liquor store in
Greenwich and one of the few still standing that opened just as
Prohibition was repealed in December 1933.
At the time, Frank and
Pauline Schmidel had just opened a delicatessen on the Post Road in the
center of Cos Cob. With the repeal, the pair saw opportunity and turned
their deli into a liquor store.
Today, the adult beverage retailer
is in the hands of George Smith, who purchased Cos Cob Liquor in 1981. His
is the second family to own Cos Cob Liquor. And the store will remain in
the Smith family for at least another generation as Smith's 25-year son,
George Smith Jr., has come on board with the intention of eventually
taking over the reins.
It was a tough start, said Smith, 56, who,
with his wife, Maureen, struggled to build their newly acquired business
back in the early 1980s. Soon after buying the package store, the Mianus
River Bridge collapsed, a devastating blow to Cos Cob- area retailers.
Then, in December 1984, just as the pair was gearing up for what they
hoped would be a profitable Christmas, a fire ravaged the entire Food Mart
shopping complex, including the liquor store.
George Smith took a
job at the Cos Cob's Center Hardware Store to pay the bills as the Food
Mart complex was being rebuilt. Despite knowing that their fire losses far
exceeded the original investment, the Smiths decided to persevere and give
the store another go, George Smith said.
"We were devastated for a
while," said Maureen Smith, who continues to work in the store during the
busy holiday season.
It was the customers that kept the couple's
spirit up. Like many mom-and-pop stores at the time, Cos Cob Liquor gave
many customers house charge accounts. But all the paperwork had been lost
in the fire, George Smith said.
Smith said he got phone calls from
customers saying, "We know our bills burnt down, but we want to pay you,"
Not knowing how much they actually owed, people just
started sending cash, Smith said. "That's how nice people are."
years after the fire, Cos Cob Liquor reopened and the Smiths began to
rebuild the business. It was a two-person show for a while, Maureen Smith
said, recalling how she and her husband would feed their two children
dinner at the store, help them with their homework and then stock the
shelves until midnight.
Business began to take off when Smith
started discounting products.
"We started growing and we have been
growing ever since," Smith said.
Being part of the Food Mart
shopping complex helped a great deal because people shopped for groceries
and then came in to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner. As customer
traffic increased, Smith decided to turn Cos Cob Liquor into a deep
"We have more than 200 items at the state's minimum
price," he said.
And on a busy Saturday, 200 to 250 customers walk
through the store's doors, said store manager Tom Prackup.
also has transformed the business, Smith said. Today, about 70 percent of
sales come from wine. The store carries wines from all over the world,
with a strong emphasis on California.
The Smiths are now bracing
for another change, which started with the state Legislature passing a law
this summer allowing package stores to stay open until 9 p.m., an hour
later than permitted for the past four decades.
The change has
sparked debate over whether to allow alcohol sales on Sunday. Neither the
extended hours nor Sunday sales are something Smith supports.
don't like having people work on Sundays," Smith said. And to be open
seven days a week means hiring another person, he added.
almost have to do it because of competition," Smith said. "We already
discussed making it work. We are kind of sure it will happen."
Smiths are not alone in their distaste for the possible
"Most of our members are against Sunday sales. We feel we
will lose sales to grocery stores," said Stephen Downes, president of the
Connecticut Package Store Association.
Most package stores are
smaller operations and being opened seven days will be a hardship for many
store owners, Downes said. Most owners will be forced to hire extra help
and will have to be there seven versus six days.
and Saturday are big selling days, Downes said. "If stores are open on
Sunday, it won't make much of a difference."
The Smith family is
preparing to embrace some changes. The younger Smith, who has an Internet
marketing background, wants to computerize the store and
He's already revamped the store's Web site and 10
percent of the store's Christmas sales came from Internet purchases this
year, George Smith Jr. said.
The store received Internet orders
from as far away as Malaysia, with people sending bottles of wine and
other liquors to clients, family and friends in the area, he
So what does an old-school dad think about his son's plans to
take the 70-year business into the 21st century?
"It is quite
exciting," Smith said.
But as the younger Smith prepares to take
over the business, the elder Smith isn't ready to completely let go of the
store he literally built from the ground up.
"I am starting to slow
down," he said. "But I will always probably have my nose in it."