In the mid-1960s, the Skolnick family was ready to leave Coney Island. Austin Sholes — who lived on North Compo, across from Gorham Avenue — urged his in-laws to look at Westport. They liked it, and bought a house on nearby Tamarac.
Irving Skolnick had been a diamond setter in New York. Now he bought Liquor Locker — one of the 3 package stores then on Main Street.
A bit later Irving’s son Harvey came home from the Army. He didn’t know much about whiskey or wine, but he joined the business. He liked dealing with customers. That was good for Irving, who preferred being in the background.
Irving’s wife Eva worked at the shop too. Theirs was a great partnership, and the store thrived. Changes came to Main Street — among the mom-and-pop shops that left were the 2 other liquor stores — but the Skolnicks stayed.
Liquor Locker has been a Main Street mainstay for 45 years. This week, though, the shelves are empty. The bottles are packed.
On Monday, Liquor Locker reopens in Compo Shopping Center. The new digs are between Olympia Sports and Gold’s.
The other day — between moving, and taking care of his 2 kids — Seth Sholes talked about Liquor Locker’s long history. He’s Irving’s grandson, and Harvey’s nephew.
Now — retired after 27 years on Wall Street — he’s also the store’s new co-owner.
Growing up in Westport, Seth says, “everyone went downtown.” For him and his friends, the store — with couches in the back — was a place to hang out during jaunts to the Y, Bill’s Smoke Shop, and “checking out the mitts at Schaefer’s and the skis at Sport Mart.”
As the business grew over the years, wines grew more prominent.
But what grew too were Main Street rents. “They’re crazy now,” Seth says. Harvey tried many times to buy his building. But the landlord — a 98-year-woman who’s owned it since he opened — never wanted to sell.
Her relationship with Harvey is warm. She came in the store the other day, and they hugged.
Yet Main Street has changed. “People don’t hang out there anymore,” Seth notes. “They go for a specific purpose, like the Gap. We all knew Bill, Sam Sloat, the people at Klein’s. There aren’t many places now where you have interaction with the guy behind the counter.”
Liquor Locker did not change much. Harvey never got into email, and the store does not sell online. When an interesting new wine comes in, Harvey calls his customers.
There is no inventory system. “It’s all in Harvey’s head,” Seth says with wonder. “He knows when to order, and what’s where.” Seth plans to move it “out of his head, onto a computer. It’ll be the best of both worlds.”
When they thought about moving, Seth and Harvey looked at Compo Acres, near Trader Joe’s. Then a “For Rent” sign across the street caught their eye. They looked at the space near Gold’s, called the number, and waited for the real estate rep to come. A week later, the space was theirs.
It will have enough room for wine tasting. Yet Seth does not see Liquor Locker changing what it does best.
“We’re not interested in selling 500 cases of Absolut vodka,” he says. “We’ll still get excited about 20 cases of wine that no one else in the area has.”
Seth loves Compo Shopping Center. Gold’s has been there 47 years; the barber shop and textile store, even longer. “They’re all excited we’re coming,” Seth says. “We are too.
“It’s a little bit now like what Main Street was.”