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"Businesses of Broome" sits down with Barry Manville, owner of Southbridge Wines & Spirits and first member of Be Local Broome

Barry Manville, owner of Southbridge Wines & Spirits

Winter Clark | February 26, 2019

Earlier this week, I met with Barry Manville, owner of Southbridge Wines & Spirits and first member of Be Local Broome, to talk about his experiences as a local business owner in Binghamton. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Winter Clark: So, Terry — who initially connected Southbridge Wines with Be Local Broome — told me you had a bit of an interesting story as to how you got here. You haven’t always been doing this, right?

Barry Manville: Yes and no. I’ve managed a handful of restaurants. I ran two wine and spirits stores down in the Baltimore area that were both very successful. When we came back to New York in 2006, I jumped on board with a distributor and I was a sales rep for almost 5 years. Then I took a job with a supplier, as a district manager. I ran New York State for the 4th largest wine company in our country.

Towards the end of that 5 years with the supplier, I had some trouble with concussions. First, I wrecked on my mountain bike. I was also coaching little league and I got hit in the temple with a baseball bat. Those two concussions were very close together, within a few months of each other. Plus, I had multiple concussions through athletics and different events in my childhood. The doctors described them as “cumulative,” and I really wasn’t getting over those 2 concussions. So, my doctors recommended that I get a job where I wasn’t traveling, wasn’t in a hotel four or five nights a week, wasn’t always staring at a computer screen, or staring at a windshield and traveling all over.

Now, twelve years ago, I used to be the sales rep at this account. I always told the owner, “Hey, I’m always looking to get my own store. If you ever think about selling, give me a call.” I was off the street for eight, almost nine months, on medical leave for my concussions when, one day, the woman who owned this store called me and said, “Hey, I have some family stuff going on, and I need to sell the store so I can focus on that.”

We had lunch a couple days later, and here we are. I know that’s a long answer, but that’s really how it came about. And in taking over the store, I didn’t want to just buy the store. I felt Binghamton needed a wine shop with a kind of a hand-crafted, artisan feel to it, not just another liquor store.

WC: In comparison to representing a larger company, what is your favorite part about what you do now?

BM: Well, one thing I love is the hands-on approach and the hands-on feel that I have every day. There’s no layers of management or bureaucracy to go through to get decisions done. It’s basically myself, my 20 years of knowledge in the business, and utilizing that experience to reach my customers on a very personal basis.

I really like the hands-on approach. It’s not a life constructed of emails and presentations. I get to see and know my customers every day. And I really like that. I like to be a part of their experiences. I mean, when they come in and order special wines for special occasions and holidays, in some small way, I’m a part of those events. People will come in and just take my recommendations. It’s kind of nice to be a part of that.

WC: That is really nice! And that’s something that we, at Be Local Broome, are trying to encourage: the connection between business owners and their customers. When you’re buying stuff online, or you don’t have to actually interact with a person to make a purchase, you’re losing out on a sort of time-honored tradition, and an opportunity for human connection.

BM: For sure! And that’s true even at the retail level, not the corporate sales level that I was in, but the retail level. I went into a chain liquor store just a week ago. Not one person asked us if they could help us. We had people almost move us out of the way. They were on their way to somewhere, but they didn’t ask if they could help us, if we were looking for anything, if we found everything ok. I don’t want to say that they’re struggling with personal touch, it’s just that there’s no personal connection there. If you ask for something, they rarely know what it is or where it is.

Every customer that walks through our door, we engage with. It doesn’t really matter how small or large the purchase is. We try to let them know that we’re here for them.

I am the only certified specialist of wine in the area. I’ve been a member of the Society of Wine Educators since 2005. And, through the 4 restaurants that I have managed and the 2 wine and liquor stores that I have been the general manager at, I really feel that I bring an element of knowledge and service that nobody has in the area. So, even though we’re a little corner, neighborhood store, Southbridge has a lot to offer.

WC: Let’s zoom out and look at Southbridge in the context of the localist movement. You were the first member to join Be Local Broome. Why did you choose to do that?

BM: I couldn’t sign up fast enough. There’s a lot of things I feel obligated to do, or to be a part of, and this was not one of them. This was a very easy decision for me. I went right back to the office, grabbed the check book, and wrote the check that day.

I was asking Terry some questions, like, “How many businesses do you think are involved?” He said, “Well, I think you’re the first!” That made me feel really good. It was very easy for me to sign up for Be Local Broome. My wife and I try to shop local every bit that we can, and I hope others do as well.

My wife and I had moved out west, then moved back. We moved down to Baltimore, then moved back. Since we’ve moved back in 2006, I’d been planning leaving again, because I didn’t want to settle down in this area. The weather is not always as we like it. There wasn’t a strong economy. Binghamton was not high on my radar to settle down and own a business.

But, those health problems that I had, and being home for 8 months, made me realize what was important. I was missing my family. Buying this business was not only something for me, it was something for our community. I kind of stuck my flagpole in the ground and said, ‘Hey. This is where we’re going to live, this is where we’re going to work, and this is where we’re going to retire.’ Four or five years ago, you never would have heard that answer from me.

I kind of feel like I’m getting in on the ground floor, and I’m just very happy to be growing with Binghamton. There’s restaurants popping up everywhere downtown in the last 5 years, and that’s rare. It hasn’t always been that way. I like to feel that I’m a part of the new Binghamton.

WC: So you yourself buy locally as much as possible. What motivates that on your part?

BM: The immediate answer is just knowing, deep down, that it’s the right thing to do. We try to do everything we can. I’ve seen numbers of how much keeping your dollars local means to the community, and they’re significant. It really does mean a lot, keeping your dollars here as opposed to Amazon and Walmart and places like that — and even other, smaller chains. You’re really not supporting the local economy by shopping at a big box store like that.

I’m 45, so I’m relatively old, I guess. But growing up, there was always a neighborhood hardware store, there was always a neighborhood this or that. And they’re not there anymore. Lowes and Home Depot have kind of taken over. The expansion of chains puts hundreds of stores and thousands of people - who are mastering their craft - out of work.

WC: Is there anything else you would like to share?

BM: I encourage anyone and everyone who is looking for a wine shop experience to come to Southbridge Wines & Spirits. We’re really not a liquor store. Do we carry liquor? Do we carry spirits? Absolutely. Do we have the lowest price in town on everything? No. But are we very competitive on a lot of things? We do have the lowest prices on a handful of things when it comes to spirits.

But what we are is a fine wine shop. We have the area’s only tasting station. These are wines from around the world, that you will barely find anywhere else in the area. They are available to other people in the area, but most liquor store owners in the area, they’re not researching fine wines from around the world. They’re not bringing in natural wines, organic wines, wines without sulfites, or wines that are biodynamically farmed. Those are things that we have. On our wall, we have a selection of a hundred different wines that generally, you won’t find anywhere in the area.

We have wines on tap every day, so you can taste wines 7 days a week. But if you haven’t been to the store on a Friday between 4 and 7, that is really the time to come. We always have a different personality behind the tasting bar here. Sometimes it’s myself, but usually it’s a winemaker, a distributor, a supplier — someone in the business who is knowledgeable and passionate about the wines that they’re showing. It’s unlike going to some liquor stores where they have a card table and plastic cups out, and they’re just pouring whatever they need to get rid of. They’re not really knowledgeably and passionately selling these wines; they’re more just going through the motions. We use fine, crystal stemware, and Southbridge is a pretty nice place to taste and learn about wine. We’re the only place like it in town. And there was a reason I did it that way. I didn’t want to have a liquor store, I wanted to have a wine shop.

WC: Honestly, what stands out to me about that description is that while obviously you want to make sales and promote your business, there’s also this aspect of coming together with other members of the community and just having an enjoyable time.

BM: Absolutely. Without Terry being a wine lover, and if I was just another liquor store, he probably wouldn’t come in here regularly. We wouldn’t be having this conversation without Terry, most likely, or at least not so soon. I wouldn’t have known about Be Local Broome. So it’s really about networking, and meeting new people. So many people come in here, and we just have a lot of fun.

There were three older ladies who came in a couple weeks ago. I asked them if they wanted to join our tasting club. We have over 500 members in our tasting club, and once a week I send out an email about whatever we’re featuring here at the tasting bar, or what new items we have. When we get a bunch of wine in, I often allocate it right towards the tasting club first.

I said to her, “If you come to one of our Friday tastings, you’ll never go to a big box store for wine again.” She came to the very next Friday tasting and now she’s a tasting club member. We see her probably once a week. She brings her friends in, and they meet others here. To your point, it’s very much about the community, about meeting others, and just having fun and enjoying wine, rather than just pushing a cart through a liquor store. It’s really a fun time. •

Southbridge Wines & Spirits is located at 1177 Vestal Avenue in Binghamton. All members of Be Local Broome — businesses, nonprofits, and individuals — receive a 20% discount at Southbridge Wines & Spirits. If you're one of our business or nonprofit members and want to be featured as a part of "Businesses of Broome," please contact Winter Clark at winter@belocalbroome.com. To join us as a member, click here.

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