Acker Merrall & Condit Company
I thought I misheard Anna, a member of the Acker Merrall team, when she said the company had been around since 1820. There was no misunderstanding: Acker Merrall is the oldest continuously operating wine merchant in the country. Anna even showed me a framed list on the wall that detailed the provisions of the Titanic. Sure enough, wine from Acker Merrall was listed. Anna explained that they were specifically known for stocking ships and that in the early 1900s, there were twenty-nine locations scattered along the coast, stretching as far south as Baltimore. Not only that, but the company sold fine food and housewares along with wine. As Harper, another member of the Acker Merrall team, joked, “It was perfect for when you think, ‘Hmm…I need some whiskey and some chairs.'”
Sadly, after Prohibition was repealed, a law was passed in New York requiring liquor stores to have only one location. It was also decided that no food items were allowed to be sold in a liquor shop. This meant that Acker Merrall had to choose whether it wanted to be a wine store or a grocery store. The original Acker Merrall family decided to take over the food and housewares departments and sold the alcohol operations to the Kapon family, who still run the company – John Kapon is currently the owner, and has been on West 72nd since 1985.
Today, Acker Merrall is best known as the largest wine auctioneer in the world, with its strongest support coming from New York and Hong Kong, since China has become the biggest consumer of wine worldwide. There are beautifully bound books in the back of the store that have carefully documented these sales over the years. In addition to the auctions, the store has regular tasting events and invites importers and producers from different wine companies to share their goods with the community. While Acker is “pretty global,” they focus on a lot of old world wines, especially French.
Harper credits the company’s attention to detail and customer service with its longevity. Acker offers services that go above and beyond, such as free delivery to the Hamptons and Fire Island during the summer months. It also helps that Acker sources rare wines from many countries around the world. One day, I was with a member of the Manhattan Sideways team who recognized a bottle that his father had purchased while on vacation in Argentina. James excitedly said, “My dad loved this wine, but has never been able to find it again.” Of course he had to buy a bottle to take home to him.
Before we left, Harper showed me a picture of New York City from the early 1900s. Behind a horse-drawn carriage and a pile of barrels, I could see the sign for Acker Merrall. In a city where shops open and close faster than I can discover them, it was refreshing to find a business that has managed to stay afloat for almost two centuries.