86 Years of Sherry-Lehmann!
By Chris Adams, Chief Executive Officer of Sherry-Lehmann
2020 marks 86 years for Sherry-Lehmann, and we thought we’d take the opportunity to share a bit of our history with you, our great clientele: from Jack Aaron’s founding of Sherry Wine and Spirits, Sam Aaron’s love of wine, our first Bordeaux futures campaign for the 1959 vintage, the evolution of the Sherry-Lehmann Catalog, to Michael Aaron’s decades long stewardship and growth of our store. At every point in this growth, we’ve always focused on offering our clients exceptional service, competitive pricing, and the best selection possible.
During Prohibition, Jack Aaron was a well-known supplier of spirits and was regarded as a great connoisseur of whiskey. Naturally, after repeal, he decided to take his ready-made client base and go into the liquor business. So, on March 6, 1934, he founded Sherry Wine and Spirits Co., Inc.
Our first store was one of several shops in the Louis Sherry building on Madison Avenue at 62nd Street; the building that is now home to Hermes. (In fact, the store took its name from the building — not from the fortified wine of Spain.) In 1935, Jack was joined by his brother, Sam Aaron. Sam almost immediately developed an interest in a beverage that was hardly consumed in those days, wine. In 1937, Sherry Wine and Spirits moved one block south to 61st Street and Madison Avenue, to a site that is now New York’s famed Carlton House. In 1948, when Sherry Wine and Spirits moved across the street to 679 Madison Avenue, the original wood paneling from our second location (designed by the architect of the “21 Club”) was used to decorate the new shop. In 2007, we moved again, this time to a three-floor, 9,000+ square foot location just two blocks south, at 59th Street and Park Avenue. Even here we made every effort to replicate the charm and warmth of the old store. Michael Aaron and his wife, Christine, spent hours cleaning, and hanging the multitude of antiques from the old store. They now hang in our new location.
In the 1940s, as Sam’s passion for wine developed, he befriended another wine and food lover, James Beard. Jim and Sam would later write a best-selling book together, How to Eat Better for Less Money, but in the early days, they were on the cutting edge of America’s wine-loving culture. As our catalog grew in scope and importance, James Beard would often contribute articles and notes. In fact, when we reprinted an article that Jim had previously published in Gourmet magazine, they fired him! It became a tradition until Jim’s death for Jim to create a special “Holiday Dinner,” complete with wine selections.
As the years flew by, and our business grew, we looked to expand. Our largest competitor was M. Lehmann, originally a gourmet butcher shop and grocery store on Park Avenue that was founded by a German immigrant, Morris Lehmann, in the early 1900s. As was the custom at the time, M. Lehmann also sold a small selection of wine and liquor. However, Morris was a very law-abiding new citizen and when Prohibition arrived, he refused to bootleg, and the store was dry. Morris’ health was failing during the 1920s, so he asked his nephew, Sidney Haas, to help him. Sidney took over ownership in 1929 and, at the end of Prohibition, applied for a liquor license. M. Lehmann remained on Park Avenue at 66th Street until 1955 when it moved to Madison Avenue. In 1965, the opportunity presented itself, and we took over M. Lehmann, and thus our name was changed to Sherry-Lehmann.
During the next few decades, we became pioneers in offering proper storage for our customers. We continued to develop our Bordeaux futures businesss — with the great successes of 1959, 1961, 1966, 1970 and 1982. Our inventory grew from 1,500 items to 7,000, and our temperature- and humidity-controlled warehouse facility expanded from a modest cellar to 65,000 square feet! We have been proud to introduce new products to the consumer throughout the years: Dom Perignon, Chivas Regal and Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais are just a few of the brands we have introduced to the United States over the years.
In April of 1990, when Sam Aaron stepped down, Michael became Chairman. In 2005, Shyda Gilmer and I joined Michael Aaron as partners. In April 2008, upon his retirement, I assumed the role of CEO, and Shyda Gilmer became our COO.
Of course, we are not only celebrating our 86th anniversary, but we are also celebrating our thirteenth year on Park Avenue and 59th Street! This exciting move has made the last thirteen years especially memorable, and we are happy to welcome all our clients to our new space — where the old Sherry-Lehmann can still be felt, but with all the advantages that new, larger space and better technology afford.
It’s difficult not to long for the days when a bottle of Château Latour 1929 sold for a meager $3.25, or you could take home a case of Château Margaux 1928 for $30.50. In 1950, you could buy Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945 for $2.25 a bottle, and today it sells for $12,000 a bottle. We still produce catalogs jammed pack with delicious, inexpensive gems to grace your table every day.
At Sherry-Lehmann, a lot has changed since our first years when the entire staff was made up of just three gentlemen. Today, our staff of over 70, which grows to nearly 200 during the holidays, is always ready to serve you. We produced one catalog in 1935, and mailed it to a couple of hundred friends and clients. We now produce five catalogs a year that go out to hundreds of thousands of clients.
Through all the changes and all the growth, our business is still built on three simple principles: service, service, and service.