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 entire.town. 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.
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.”
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.