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The Greene Grape.  

The Greene Grape
765 Fulton Street
Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Amy Bennett and her boyfriend formed the Greene Grape mid-flirtation. Amy, a successful lawyer, had just begun dating Jason Richelson, a former trader, after splitting up with her husband in 2002. “I want to start a business with you, any business,” offered Jason over a cup of coffee. A longtime oenophile, Amy suggested a wineshop. Almost at once, she recollects, “romantic e-mail exchanges went out the window,” replaced by curt correspondence about licenses. Devoted to wines made with “integrity, skill, and pride” (i.e., in small batches, by independent producers, on obscure châteaux), this is a shop for the enlightened drinker eager to trace the liquid in his glass to the soil and toil that produced it.

The trickiest part of opening a wine store is orchestrating the near-simultaneous arrival of the lease and the liquor license. The State Liquor Authority demands to see that a location is chosen before awarding the license; the nightmare scenario is ending up chained to a storefront with a rejected application. New York’s Prohibition-mangled statutes provide any number of Kafkaesque reasons for tossing an application. Amy wisely retained an attorney and put an escape hatch into the lease: In case her application fell through, the landlord-tenant agreement was automatically moot.

There was no construction, so they didn’t need any permits. Amy kept the design minimal: simple signage and awning ($5,000) and austere wine racks ($3,635.72). In the race to start turning a profit, the couple opened the Greene Grape before the racks were even in place, instead piling case upon case. The registers, point-of-sale software, and back-end accounting software cost $11,878.49, although Jason managed to cut some of the expenses by setting up everything himself, including the security system ($1,950). Air-conditioning and sealing the store and basement for proper wine storage ran $18,146. Finally, utilities setup relieved the couple of another $1,100.

Wine-store logic dictates that at least two people are on the premises at all times, mainly for safety reasons. The Greene Grape is open 65 hours a week, which gives the owners 130 hours to cover at $10 an hour. Amy and Jason offer bonuses and a form of health insurance to part-timers, so a $10-an-hour employee quickly costs $15 an hour. “Nothing tests your political beliefs,” half-jokes Amy, “like being a small-business owner.”

Every liquor retailer faces a choice—go low (paper bags, Plexiglas), go high (capricious old reds, even more capricious clientele), or go for the volume. Greene Grape customers buy quality wines cheap and often; most bottles are priced between $8 and $25, topping out at $78.

Their biggest challenge is raising kids while running the business. Amy’s thumbs are glued to her Sidekick (“It’s the only thing that keeps my family life integrated”), and the couple communicates in half-telepathic code-speak. But entrepreneurship and private life appear reconcilable: Their first child was born nine months—to the day—after the store opened its doors with a champagne toast.