In November 1969, Jack Riley opened Greens Farms Spirit Shop in a Post Road strip mall near Turkey Hill South.
The holiday season is every liquor store’s Super Bowl. For nearly 50 years Jack has spent nearly every waking hour — including Christmas Eve — making sure his many loyal customers have all the whiskey, wine and beer they need.
There’s always something going on at Greens Farms Spirit Shop.
This year is different. Tomorrow — Saturday night — Jack will close up for the last time. The next day, he and his wife Eileen Proulx Riley — well-known too in town, for her long service with the Westport Library children’s department — head to California. Their 2 sons, 2 daughters-in-law and 4 grandchildren are there.
For once, Jack won’t think about inventory, deliveries, or anything else work-related. Earlier this week, he sold his store.
After half a century as one of our town’s favorite merchants, he’s moving west for good.
That’s bad news for countless Westporters who started as customers, and became friends. But 50 years is a long time to own a business.
Particularly one as demanding — and in demand — as a liquor store.
Jack’s roots in the area are long and deep. He grew up in Fairfield. After graduating from Christ the King High School, he worked for an electrical distributor.
His father was the last of 4 generations of rye makers. In 1969 Jack and his dad — also a Sikorsky engineer and tool-and-die maker — found a great location for a liquor store. They spent that summer building it out.
Jack Riley at Greens Farms Spirit Shop, on the first day of business: November 10, 1969.
Jack had a great run. In a town in which many businesses have the longevity of fruit flies, Greens Farms Spirit — and its next door neighbor, Fortuna’s — have been not just consistent, but consistently good.
Jack’s store is well known not just for knowledgeable help, wine tastings, a wide selection at all price points, and the many young Westporters he’s hired and mentored, but for its genuine friendliness.
If “Cheers” was the bar where everyone knew your name, Greens Farms Spirit is the liquor store equivalent.
The wide aisles and square sales counter are places of constant banter. It’s not quite a country store with pot-bellied stove, but for a spirit shop it comes close.
In October 2012, the power was out all around town. But Jack Riley’s Greens Farms Spirit Shop was open.
Customers know Jack’s family well, because he talks proudly about them. His son Kevin and wife Genoa own a wine business. They have 3 boys, ages 13, 10 and 9. Jack’s other son Tim works for the Navy as a computer engineer. He and his wife Amy have a 6-year-old girl.
Both families live within 2 hours of each other, on the sparsely populated, beautiful central California coast.
Back row (from left): “Jack” Nelson Riley, Eileen Riley, Jack Riley. Front:
Finley, Westley and Barrett Riley.
Jack and Eileen have bought 10 acres. They’ll build a new house. He’ll play a lot of golf. They’ll be bi-coastal until she leaves her job at the library.
And he’ll connect with a new set of customers, at Kevin’s tasting room. (He’ll no doubt see plenty of old ones too. That area — and those wines — are popular draws for Westporters.)
Most of all, Kevin says, “he looks forward to learning to drive a tractor, and be the cowboy he’s always dreamed of.”
The new owners will run Greens Farms Spirit Shop. Rob Pelletier — Jack’s longtime assistant manager — will still be there. The friendly, helpful fun vibe will continue.
But before they take over on Sunday, let’s raise our glasses one last time — in person, or online.
Here’s to you, Jack Riley: for 50 years, the true spirit of Greens Farms.