Raise Your Glass
Bag & String Wine Merchants Announce Changes
LAKEWOOD — As Bag & String Wine Merchants approaches its third year at 110 Chautauqua Ave. in Lakewood, and its eighth year in business, its founder, Samuel Whitmore, reflects on the company’s history.
“My two sons were essentially raised in this business,” he said, noting that he worked in the wine industry in Napa and Sonoma Counties in California for 15 years before moving to his wife’s native Western New York.
As with any new business, he knew there would be struggles.
“When I started this store, I was not sure if it would be successful or not,” Whitmore said. “I knew there was a need for something different, and found a way to convince myself of its success.”
In the fourth year of business, Whitmore bought the property at 110 Chautauqua Ave. to renovate and expand his starter store from 1,200 square feet to more than 3,000. Constantly reinvesting in the business allowed it to grow quickly. Hiring Matt Herrera in 2014 as the general manager and the shop’s first full-time employee allowed Whitmore to focus on the design and renovation of the property at 110 Chautauqua Ave. Before that project was completed, the building next door at 120 Chautauqua Ave. became available and also needed major renovations.
“The support beams on the first floor were not to code; that project alone was about $50,000,” Whitmore said. “We added two high-end loft apartments on the third floor, and fixed up the second story.”
Herrera said that a high-level of customer service and knowledge are critical. The employees at Bag & String Wine Merchants are all required to study for the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust certificate, known as the WSET. Herrera is certified Level 3 WSET and is working toward his masters of wine, the American equivalent of master sommelier. He oversees the employees’ education, and develops material for classes the shop offers to its customers.
“This process gives our employees the confidence to recommend wines and spirits and our customers the confidence in our team,” he said.
Leslie Wasik, the store’s wine club manager, chimed in.
“One of the biggest drivers of growth for Bag & String Wine Merchants has been the wine club,” she said.
Whitmore remarked on that growth. “In July 2011, my first wine club shipment was maybe 10 people,” he said. “As of today, we have 803 members.”
Beginning in January, Bag & String Wine Merchants will have three new partners. Herrera, Wasik and Mel Mason will be taking a partnership position in Bag & String Wine Merchants.
“They have been the driving force for a few years now,” Whitmore said. “It is the right time to transition to a new executive leadership team. Having them as partners will maintain continuity and momentum.”
With an eye to the future and continued development of the historic district of Lakewood, Whitmore said that reducing his day-to-day responsibilities in the store will allow him to focus on other projects.
“We have a lot of plans for 2018 and beyond,” he said. “To increase our market share locally, regionally and online, we need to continue demonstrating why we are market leaders in the world of wine and spirits. Our first goal is to create an event space for our wine and spirits classes.”
He expressed concern about the loss of a community center, when the town of Busti sold the old bunker building near the Village Hall.
“That space was used throughout the year for all sorts of activities, including a gathering place for seniors to stay connected” he said. “It was an unfortunate loss.”
The new Bag & String space would be about 1,000 square feet, and separate from the wine store. Because the shop will use its event space only a small amount of time, it will be available for private rentals and free to community and non-profit groups.
NEW PRODUCTS, OFFERINGS
In addition to local wine and spirits offerings, Bag & String Wine Merchants has recently entered the custom-barrel-bourbon market with the purchase of an entire barrel of bourbon from Garrison Brothers Distillery in Texas. Herrera explained that craft bourbon and whiskey has been a hot product for years, and continues to grow.
In addition to offering specialty bourbon and other liquor, Bag & String Wine Merchants is entering the Negociant market, which Whitmore said is a term for people who buy and blend select lots of wine to sell under their own label. He said that buying large lots of unfinished wine would allow the Bag & String team to develop a high-quality blend for a great value. Bag & String Wine Merchants’ first brand will be called Omnia, meaning “everything” in Latin.
“I thought the word ‘everything’ in Latin was a fun name and an appropriate description,” Whitmore said. “For the last seven years, I have poured everything into this business and these properties.”
He said that building a business can be a struggle. But now with Herrera, Wasik and Mason joining him, Whitmore said that they have contributed greatly and treated the shop as their own, even before becoming partners.
The Omnia Wines are expected to arrive in early 2018, and include a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, with other blends and varieties arriving as they are ready.
Bag & String Wine Merchants is a specialty rare wine and liquor store with an emphasis on value and on unique wines from around the globe. Our primary goals are to provide unparalleled service, wine education and a selection that meets consumers’ needs and budgets.
Additional services include wine education, food and wine pairing, weddings and other events, and corporate and group classes.