I thought about the coming New Year, and the fact that this article would be published on New Year's Eve. It seemed to be an appropriate time to talk to a package store owner, when many people are celebrating. I met Sergio Fortes many years ago at a local auto repair shop. Sergio had worked as a mechanic and as a shop manager and saw to it that my old Fords were repaired and running well. I was suprised to find out one day about five years ago that Sergio had left to open his own business.
Timothy Becker: Sergio, why did you leave the auto repair business after so many years?
Sergio Fortes: I had been a manager at two auto businesses. I believed that I could manage my own business.
Timothy Becker: As the owner do you put in long hours in the store?
Sergio Fortes: The store is open seven days a week: Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 9 pm. Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. I work over 72 hours a week. People think that I sit around all day, and that the products get on the shelves by themselves. I get an order of 300 cases of beer every week. I need to put each case into the walk-in cooler one at a time. I can go for weeks without paying myself. The bills come first.
Timothy Becker: Is this a very busy time for you?
Sergio Fortes: I wait all year for this. During the three holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, I do twice the number of sales. Everyone is still partying through New's Year's Day and this is a big week for me.
Timothy Becker: What do you think of the Sunday Opening law that was enacted last year ?
Sergio Fortes: I didn't open on Sunday for the first seven weeks after the law was enacted and my Saturday sales plummeted. We had no choice. We had to open seven days a week. We now do the same sales in seven days that we used to do in six days. The late minute rush used to be from eight to nine PM in the evening on Saturday, now the rush is on Sunday at 4:30 PM.
Iimothy Becker: Wasn't one of the reasons for the law to keep people buying over the border in Massachusetts which has stores open on Sundays?
Sergio Fortes: The state mislead people about the state border issue. People cross the border because beer, wine, and spirits are so much cheaper in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts there is zero tax on alcohol. They sell it for what I can, but Sunday sales benefited the grocery stores in Connecticut since they are already open. Many times beer prices at grocery stores are much higher. People usually just grab it off the shelves witout checking the price.
Timothy Becker: Can you explain the issue of state minimum pricing?
Sergio Fortes: The state of Connecticut regulates the price of beer, wine, and liquor. I can sell for more but not any less. It helps the little guy compete. Without minimum pricing, I would be out of business.
Timothy Becker: I see that you have a large wine selection. What wines are people looking for these days?
Sergio Fortes: I doubled the size of my wine selection over the five years that I have owned the store. California wine is making a big return. Blends are also becoming popular. These are called meritages. They blend Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet, Malbec. People want a good tasting wine. In the white wine, chardonnay is still the most popular followed by Pinot Gregorio. Moonshine is a new product that is a new fad.
Timothy Becker:What is the latest in beer?
Sergio Fortes: Micro brews are the big thing. A lot of the locally made beer is popular. We have Ten Penney Ale that is made in East Hartford and Thomas Hooker which is made in Bloomfield. Sam Adams always sells well and of course Bud, Bud Light are the staples.
Timothy Becker: So you are pleased with your choice to start in your own business?
Sergio Fortes: It is great working for yourself. It is everyone's dream to open your own business.