A neon sign blazes the single word LIQUORS above the storefront on Broadway. The 70-year old sign is a familiar fixture to area residents, serving as a beacon and welcoming them to Riverside Liquors, but only tells half the story.
Owned by John Alverez, the wine and spirit store, with its brightly-lit sign has been a well-known landmark in the Upper West Side neighborhood for more than 65 years – standing as one of the oldest continuously operating businesses on the Upper West Side. In its current location, the east side of Broadway between 104th and 105th Streets, the store has found its third (and hopefully) last home.
Despite the hassle and disruption that moving entails Riverside Liquors has embraced the change, which, as a result, has had a positive impact on business. The most significant change has been an increased square footage, all of which has been fully renovated with new racks and shelving. According to Bob Hebert, in charge of Wine Sales for the store, the move has been a catalyst ‘to really turn the store into something special in the neighborhood.” More specifically, Hebert has been trying to find things that are "a little different, a little more interesting."
In buying wines for the new location, Hebert is looking for different things such as new vineyards that he hasn’t seen before or offbeat wines, which he can do now that he has the space. For example, he previously didn’t have the room for Argentine Torrontès or Spainish Albariño, but now that he’s got it, he’s been able to introduce it to his customers and finds that they like these new selections. Moreover, he continues to develop a level of trust with them as they share their experiences and preferences with him over time. He recently brought in a 100% Cinsault wine that has been “flying out of here.” It was a wine that Hebert had never tried before himself, but he found it interesting and was excited to put it in the shop. Another new addition is One Hope Zinfandel 2011 from California, with $3.00 of each sale benefitting our troops. Hebert expects to eventually carry the full line of One Hope wines, which each benefit a different cause and also hopes to increase the stock of Italian wines as well as Oregon Pinot Noir.
And, the expanded selection isn’t limited to wines– after all, it does still say “Liquors” above the door. Consequently, he was pleased to add Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey from Tuthilltown Spirits, produced in upstate New York, to the shelf. While Hebert admits that it is not inexpensive, he suggests that it makes a great personal investment or a terrific gift.
Hebert, an actor, has been with Riverside Liquors for three years and in the wine industry for 12 years. Like with many people, wine began first as a hobby, but later, he started working for a friend to make extra money and eventually stayed on in the industry. When asked about how he came to be at Riverside Liquors, he notes that he has known Alverez for a long time, marking his initial acquaintance back to when he was first dating his wife. The two would stop into the store and pick up a bottle or two before heading back to her huge rent, stabilized apartment. Now, as a long-time resident of the neighborhood, he knows the neighborhood and he knows his neighbors, many of whom are now customers. In this vein, Hebert recounts a recent story in which he was in a grocery store upstate while settling his son into college and ran into a store customer who was doing the same for her daughter.
But, they are taking baby steps, as Hebert and Alverez still want to be sure they cater to all levels of consumers, and still want to be responsive to the neighborhood, where their average sale is $15.00-$20.00. Accordingly, customers will still find $8.00 bottles, alongside the newer mid-range options.
Further evidence of the store’s commitment to the neighborhood is Hebert’s plan to bring in more Kosher wines, which is a market he realizes that they are not serving well right now. He knows that his neighbors previously had to go elsewhere for these wines and he anticipates bringing in more by Hanukah, coupled with tastings of Kosher wines. They have also chosen to revise the store’s hours to stay open until 11:30 PM (they formerly closed at 11:00 PM) to ensure that Broadway musicians coming from the theatre on a Saturday night also have the chance to pick up some wine as they head home, which is just plain neighborly.
Riverside Liquors, 2728 Broadway, New York, NY 10025