The late Val Fiorita opened Val’s Putnam Wines & Liquors in 1957 because he thought the alcohol business could withstand any economy. His son, Jeb Fiorita, now runs the store, which he has adapted to survive challenges like the recession and competitors.
Fiorita worked in finance abroad before returning to the U.S. to help with the Greenwich liquor store when his father got sick in 2004. He worked alongside his dad, eventually taking over as owner.
“It opened the door to me thinking we could really grow this business and be an integral part of the community,” he said.
Fiorita said he brought in a bigger variety of wines and started doing deliveries, classes and corporate and home events.
The store is stocked floor to ceiling with about 5,000 wines, some liquors and a small section of craft beer, which is becoming more popular especially among younger customers, Fiorita said. An update in state law a few years ago made it possible for breweries to be profitable in Connecticut, which has led to more beer produced in the state, he said. Another update to the law increased the number of alcohol permits someone can own from three to four. It will increase to five in July 2016.
Fiorita said he is worried that a big-box store like Costco, Trader Joe’s or Total Wine & More could come to town and hurt his business, or that of the other 23 wine stores in Greenwich.
“It’s going to flatten out all the small businesses,” he said.
Fiorita said large liquor stores attract the masses who think they are getting a better deal than they would at an independently owned store, when the prices are usually comparable.
He said he has tried to insulate himself by offering fine wines from around the world, including collector wines, like a rare $700 bottle of Opus One from California. He said he and the staff of 10 are in contact with the CEOs of vineyards and understand the wines unlike large stores. His staff members get to know the customers and suggest wines they would like.
Despite the potential large competitors, Fiorita said he is considering opening a second location in Greenwich or a surrounding town.
“It has to be the right opportunity,” he said. “I’m a little cautious.”