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Running a wine shop involves more than just tasting 100 samples a week

Each week, Grid does a deep dive on the economics of running an everyday business, from a tattoo parlor to a dog-walker. This week, we take a look at how to build and operate a wine shop.

Independent Spirits, which stocks wines and whiskeys and assorted liquors so strong they burn at the smell, opened in Edgewater on July 19. It’s a 10-year dream in the making for owner Scott Crestodina, 39. He spent more than a decade stocking and managing other people’s stores — Gold Eagle Liquors in Libertyville and Warehouse Liquors in the South Loop. In the meantime, he filled empty rooms in his house with used wine crates, plotting for the day when he they’d hold inventory at his own enterprise.

Like his now-liberated collection of wine crates, Crestodina’s palate is a product of patience and hustle. For a long time, he drank and read about a different wine every night. He keeps up the habit, tasting upwards of 100 samples a week. But he avoids florid language or name-dropping. “I don’t really think of myself as a huge snob in any particular way,” he says, likening his approach to his time working at a video store in Iowa City. “People might have different feelings about the same movie the same way they might have different feelings about wine. You just tell people what you like.”

Crestodina works 80 hours a week and drinks to take off the edge when he gets home. Despite the temptation, he always spits what he samples at work and doesn’t partake of his wares on the clock. “Never, never ever. I’ve seen people fail in this industry because of it.”

Startup: Funded in part by the sale of his great-grandfather’s Iowan farm, Crestodina’s startup budget for Independent Spirits was $150,000. Renovation and construction cost $70,000, eating up the website budget. A cooler was an additional $4,000 and the first week’s inventory was $60,000.

Start-to-finish, Crestodina says the road to opening took 22 months, including ten months working through what he calls “the community process”: meeting with neighborhood block clubs, the local chamber of commerce and property owners within a 1,000 feet of his storefront to campaign for his liquor license. “It was a bit tedious, but in the end it was understandable,” he says. “I can appreciate the caution that people took. I probably would not like it if somebody opened a liquor store that became a focus for negative elements.” Eventually, he won unanimous approval from the property owners around his Edgewater shop (5947 N Broadway St.).

Expenses: Crestodina built his tables out of old doors and accepted rug donations from his mother. He painted maps on the wall himself, tracking the origin of wines organized in the recycled crates below. The store is otherwise furnished sparsely. His employment calendar is similarly spartan. He has just one employee, who works two days a week.

He can’t cut the same corners on inventory, his biggest expense. He imports 20 to 50 cases of wine each week. Each case has 12 bottles and ranges in price from $50 to $2,400. Rent for the 1,700-square-foot store is $3,200 a month.

The liquor license costs $4,400 every 2 years, and he spent $150 on utilities over his first month in business – the hottest of the year. “I didn’t want a big fancy store,” Crestodina says. “I just wanted a place to go to work, pay my bills, be happy.

Pricing: Independent Spirits’ wines run from $8 a bottle to $250 for a 2009 Domaine Bizot Échezeaux from Cote D’Or, which costs Crestodina about $200 each to import.

Marketing: Not much. Independent Spirits makes do without a website by staying active on social media. $3,000 buys him 16 shout-outs on WBEZ. It was a gift from his mother.

Clientele: With lots of foot traffic up and down Broadway, Independent Spirits attracts a good deal of local, EdgeCard-touting wine and whiskey lovers. According to Facebook analytics, most visitors to the Independent Spirits page are aged 35 to 44. It’s just about an even split between men and women.

Photo by Susan Du