Liquor Store Chess Game: Superstore May Move Across From Castle

It’s not easy opening a liquor store in Westport.

Beyond knowing everything about all kinds of beer, wine and spirits — and about business, and the law — you need a liquor license.

There are 13 for the All are accounted for. The only way to get one is if an existing store goes out of business. That happens about as often as you’d expect.

Castle Wine & Spirits has had a license for 25 years. From their roomy space on Post Road East — the old Boat Locker, next to the now-vacant Liberty Army & Navy store — they’ve built a large, loyal customer base.

Owned by husband and wife Craig and Marina Jensen, managed for 20-plus years by Lenore Kallay and staffed by a sharp, veteran crew that knows exactly what each customer likes (and offers new ideas of what they might like), Castle is a well-loved, under-the-radar mom-and-pop success story.

Castle Wine owner Marina Jensen and wine director Ken Maykut.

But very occasionally, one of those liquor licenses becomes available. It happened in 2018 when Saugatuck Grain + Grape — for years on Railroad Place, then Post Road West — closed.

The owner of BevMax acquired the license. They’re a “superstore” chain, with 8 locations in Fairfield and New Haven Counties, plus a nationwide shipping office in Stamford. There’s a BevMax in Norwalk, near Stew Leonard’s.

The owner of a liquor store can move anywhere in Westport that zoning allows.

The new location of BevMax is the former Pier 1 store, in the Julian’s Pizza and Rio Bravo shopping center on Post Road East.

Directly opposite Castle Wine & Spirits.

The Jensens — who opposed the move before the state liquor commission, and lost — are concerned. But they’re ready to face the competition.

“People know us,” Marina Jensen says. “We  have great products, staff and customer service. We hire local kids. We deliver.

“And we have great relationships with other liquor stores. If we don’t carry something a customer wants, we send him to Greens Farms Spirit Shop. They do the same for us.”

Castle sponsors wine tastings, and offers twice-monthly classes (up next: “California vs. France”). They work closely with local organizations, like the Westport Country Playhouse.

Wine director Ken Maykut brings in bottles not found in the big box stores or other shops in town. He’s built up the burgundy section too.

“I don’t sell wine. I educate people about it,” he says. “It’s so gratifying when someone tells me they love a bottle I suggested.”

A large selection at Castle Wine & Spirits.

Construction has not yet begun on BevMax. For now, Castle Wine & Spirits has that stretch of the Post Road to themselves.

And they look forward to new neighbors next door. A vegan restaurant is planned for the old Army & Navy spot.

No word on whether it’ll have a restaurant liquor license. If it’s BYOB, customers will know exactly where to go.

15 responses to “Liquor Store Chess Game: Superstore May Move Across From Castle

  1. Matthew Mandell

    My father taught me there was nothing wrong with business competition, but that it was in poor form to open your store across the street from your competition.

    Of course we wish all people well and hope they prosper, but down the road would have been a better location.

  2. Castle has always donated to local causes when asked, as they are part of the fabric of this community. I plan to continue to support them!

  3. Louis Weinberg

    I love Castle and will continue to support them. The owners are great. The service is excellent.

  4. Ugh..Buy small folks. Support your local package store.

  5. Phil Marshall

    This stinks

  6. Jack Krayson

    Castle, Greens Farm Spirits, Kindred Spirits (next to Stop ‘n Shop), and soon Bev Max, plus a couple of others, all located in one small swatch of PRE. This isn’t competition, it’s cannibalism. There should be local zoning rules in place re: business separation for these stores. These package stores generate substantial tax revenues; but the smaller shops require some ‘protection’ from national chain goliaths, They are not nail salons, or banks.

  7. Wendy Cusick

    Each city and town has a liquor law of how many feet apart liquor each store needs to be.
    It also varies from city and town even how close to schools, playgrounds, churches, universities etc… see link below
    I found an article in the ctpost about liquor store distance of 1,500 feet from each other Monroe, Fairfield and possibly Norwalk too (I can’t find a reference article for Norwalk. I just know two liquor stores on Westport Ave US RT 1 corridor have to be 1,500 feet apart)
    I find it surprising that Westport government is allowing the new liquor store to open literally across the street.

    • Jack Krayson

      The ‘1500 Ft Rule’ was rescinded some time ago, in order to allow more restaurants that serve wine and booze to open in town. In retrospect, the rule should have been amended to protect package stores from like-minded businesses, closeby a certain area.

      • Wendy Cusick

        Thanks Jack for the update of the laws.

        A liquor store just closed on Connecticut Ave US RT 1 called Wine and Beyond it’s now becoming the new larger home for Planet Fitness.

  8. Scott Dornblaser

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I could have sworn the old Boat Locker was located on Maple and the Post Rd, down a few doors from Dunkin. And yes, I plan to support our local store!

  9. Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their local spirits, wine and beer retailer. Support local and buy local.

  10. I shop Castle regularly.. for years!! I buy my pizza at Julians..and will NOT shop Bevmax! The place stinks in Norwalk.. no help..cold place!
    I’m a bit surprised they= (P+Z) let liquor and pot in the same building?? The same P+Z so concerned about kids walking in that area..has let marijuana and now liquor in the same parking lot??? What’s next? OTB? Hooka? What happened to the”Westpot” unadvocates?? they moved out of town? I guess so? Or just given in to defeat..knowing that $$$$$ talks in this town. Just mindful for who you vote for..make sure they really have your best interests at heart.

  11. Dick Lowenstein

    Late last year, I signed an objection, called a “remonstrance,” to a liquor permit being transferred to 1460 Post Road East, which is now the site of the proposed BevMax superstore.

    My principal objection, as well as that of almost 50 Westport residents who also signed the objection, was that our area is already well-served by package stores, including one directly across the street from the proposed location. In fact, from the Fairfield town line to Compo Road, the Post Road is saturated with seven retail liquor stores.

    The petition by the Westport residents was ignored by the State Liquor Control Division, which held a hearing in Hartford. Why the hearing was not conducted locally is unbelievable, especially as the Division’s “rules” require in-person testimony. Even the current permittee (Saugatuck Grain + Grape) did not show up for the hearing, which by the “ letter of the law” should have prevented the transfer of the permit to BevMax. The commission decided to ignore its own rules.

    Now it’s our turn, our turn to ignore BevMax. And if you want to know the rest of the story, wander in to Castle Wines and speak to Marina or Craig