Places

Moving malts on Madison (Park Avenue Liquor)

Damian Riley-Smith dropped in on the Park Avenue Liquor shop and emerged energised and inspired.
By Damian Riley-Smith
“If you don’t have it you can’t sell it”, exclaims Michael Goldstein, who has adopted this phrase as his mantra for retailing excellence. It is a far cry from the 1920s when his business started (as the HJG Liquor Corporation) specialising in window displays for the drinks industry.Herman Joseph Goldstein decided to buy what was then known as a retail package store, Park Avenue Liquor Shop, in 1953/4, when it was on Park Avenue. ‘Package store’ meant retail liquor and wine shop. They moved the store to 40th Street when the building was pulled down, then to Madison Avenue and decided not to change the name. “You’ll always remember ‘Park Avenue on Madison’,” says Michael. And you do.In 1965 his father died, “I was flung into the business” he says. One of his father’s best friends was Victor Puppin, the sommelier at the Brussels, then one of the top restaurants in New York. “Victor took me under his wing and taught me the wine business from the ground up,” Michael adds. “He was in contact with high society and the very wealthy, and said to me, ‘Michael, if you’re going to sell wine you may as well sell great wine because its easier and more fun’.”Michael took this concept to heart, and since 1965 the business has grown more than 20 fold. “My philosophy is having great inventory,” he explains. “And its not just one bottle of each brand, it’s multiple cases”. “I really love having large inventories of quality merchandise, because good quality products never go bad.” It’s a tough philosophy to stand by, but one that seeps through the whole store. As I enter the basement, I can’t find one case of The Macallan or even two – there are half a dozen.So, as a drinks Mecca, when did whisky become so key? “In the early 1990s our leading whisky sales were The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and The Macallan,” says Scott Abramson, general manager, and another family member. Now there is enormous variety, numbering more than 430 different malts. For Michael malt whiskies were an extension of fine wine or very fine cognac. “If customers like fine wines or fine cognacs then they’re going to like single malt scotch”. It’s the sheer variety on offer that is so exciting – single malt scotch encourages people to look up and aspire.”And with this aspiration so comes the desire to learn. “This is why we’ve been so lucky with our own whisky aficionado, Herb Lapchin. Herb’s approach to whisky is educational and inspirational.Herb likes to talk and people like to talk to Herb. We also saw a trend in bourbon returning as a popular drink. As more bourbon went to Japan it became harder to get, and so people thought it must be good, and specialist bourbons started taking off”.Whisky also plays an important role in Michael’s home life. “I love to drink single malt Scotch. It’s one of my favourite drinks. When I go out to dinner I like it neat with a little water on the side, and I happen to love The Macallan 18
year old”.And the future. Well it all seems wrapped up in the word ‘special’. “If there’s a limited edition or limited edition packaging, no matter what the price is, it’s going to go well, unless the world collapses tomorrow,” quips Michael.As for Jonathan Goldstein, the family’s third generation member and Michael’s son, he believes in carrying on the ethos of the business. The future lies in educating people about better quality whiskies and trading on the internet. “Those who have drunk Laphroaig for years now want something similar but different which is why our depth and breadth are so important. We always have six or seven fine malts on offer, and we will always have over 400 on our shelves. And then last week we sold 7 Macallan 52-year-olds - at $2,500 (£1,750) per bottle”.You may not be able to find whiskies priced at $1.10c any more, but you will still find the same knowledge, enthusiasm and expertise that make shopping at Park Avenue Liquor one of the truly enjoyable shopping experiences of New York.