I forgot to mention last week when it came out that I have another piece in the Bay Guardian. This one is about my friendly neighborhood wine shop.
(Note to editrix: A, I have the next column written, I'm just letting it breathe before I give it a bit more polish. Should have it to you tonight. -D)
For archive purposes here is that column from December 10, 2003:
Drink and be merry
Indie wine store Friendly Spirits has something for everybody.
IF YOU'RE LOOKING for a festive bottle of wine for one of the many holiday parties you'll attend in coming weeks, I recommend you visit the lovely corner wine shop Friendly Spirits (572 Castro, S.F. 415-864-2262). The bustling store is a shining example of how to do small business right, and I consider myself blessed to live just a few blocks away from its great selection and excellent service. The store is stocked with interesting goods, infused with personality, and staffed by warm, intelligent people.
In their eight years running the business, owners Ken McDonald and David Jessup have mastered the delicate art of balancing high quality and good prices. You may not find a bottle of Two Buck Chuck here, but Trader Joe's isn't going to offer a "take care of half your holiday shopping in one 'swell foop' " deal like the one Friendly Spirits has going from now until Dec. 15. If you buy any 12 bottles, including champagne and liquor, you get 20 percent off the lot. And this isn't just any random assortment of boozy beverages: the choices are great. It's this combination of quality and low-key neighborliness that really makes the store shine.
I spoke to McDonald about the challenges of selling wine and spirits. It's one of the most heavily regulated forms of retail, so if the thought of licensing, Health Department regulations, and alcohol sales laws gives you the heebie-jeebies, this is not the business for you. It's also an entrepreneurial venture that sometimes leads to unwelcome surprises. Recently, as part of the push for safe festivities in the Castro, Friendly Spirits and other liquor stores in the area were asked to close on Halloween night, normally one of their busiest nights of the year.
McDonald told me that holiday ups and downs are always a big challenge: the wine shop also has to be "on the pulse of the seasons" and follow food trends as well. Wine is closely tied to gastronomy, and they don't call those little drinks aperitifs for no reason. Fortunately, the Friendly Spirits folks have what it takes. As with any good small business, the true value of the store lies not only in the merchandise but also in the knowledge of the people behind the counter. Have a question about wine decanters? Ask Jessup. Want to explore Australian wines? Stop by some night and let Mark pick out a bottle for you. Hoping to learn more about the difference between merlot and zinfandel? Sign up for one of McDonald's classes. Through skill, hard work, and a great attitude, Friendly Spirits truly lives up to its mission statement: "Provide the best quality product at the best possible price and sell it in the best possible way." So stop by to learn from its example, and while you're there, pick up a bottle or two. If you're going to go into retail, trust me, you'll need a stiff drink. Friendly Spirits is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and also sells online at http://www.friendlyspirits.com.