Over the past 41 years, the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival has provided the soundtrack for Brooklyn while the borough has grown and changed. Our commitment to supporting Brooklyn neighborhoods also means providing valuable support and exposure to its beloved "mom-and-pop" shops. Every summer, we partner with local businesses through our Business Friends membership program and wanted to highlight one long-standing neighborhood staple: Slope Cellars, which is about the celebrate 20 years in Park Slope. In this Q&A, we talk with Slope Cellars owner Patty Lenartz about her experience living in, and owning a business in Brooklyn.
What made you open a wine shop two decades ago and how has your business grown?
My husband Bob and I used to fantasize about opening a business on 7th Avenue, we just didn't know what type. A couple of months after we bought our house in 1999, I sent Bob out for cooking wine. Slope Cellars was a bullet-proof store called V & E Beverage around the corner from our new home. He came back and said, "That guy has no inventory on his shelves and I bet he would sell us the business." We sat down at our kitchen table and decided that with 20 years of experience between us in restaurants, Bob's background running the supply store when he was in the Navy, and my time working as a teacher and stage manager, we could figure it out. It was one of the best decisions we ever made.
How has Park Slope changed over the years? Has this affected your business?
For sure the neighborhood has become more affluent, which is good for lots of businesses like mine, and grocery stores, restaurants, and hair and nail salons. Basically things you want immediately or can't get off of the internet. But the downside is that many landlords are asking unreasonable rents and there are lots of empty storefronts. That, coupled with more and more people buying things online, means that we are seeing fewer and fewer brick and mortar stores and the whole shopping experience can be a little depressing.
We know that small businesses have a tough time in general, but even more so in burgeoning Brooklyn neighborhoods. What has been the key to your success?
Because I spent so much time in the restaurant industry, I am really big on customer service. Also because we live in the neighborhood and are friendly with many of our customers, we are sensitive to their tastes. Plus, we have a great landlord.
We know that, first and foremost, you work hard to keep your employees happy and healthy. How do you do this and why is this important to your business?
We've all had horrible bosses and I made a decision from the very beginning that I wanted to be a good boss. I figured if I was going to trust employees around cash and alcohol they better feel like they were being treated fairly. So we've always tried to pay a decent wage and we provided our employees with health insurance early on, before it was mandated.
Slope Cellars has been a Small Business Friends Member of the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival since 2007. What keeps you coming back?
I love BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! and I love being associated with the Festival. We get asked to donate to events and causes all the time and the Small Business Friends Membership delivers on a lot of levels. You get the ad and exposure, but the Tent Pass—I call it “Rock & Roll Country Club”—is such a bonus perk! My staff uses it all summer.
What are some of your favorite shows and memories from the Festival?
The Breeders last summer was a joy. Both the Sharon Jones shows were highlights. Of course David Byrne. The Robert Plant show blew my mind, because Led Zeppelin is my favorite band. And being exposed to Taylor Mac for the first time at the Festival—we are now HUGE fans. But maybe my favorite memory is when Prince showed up for the final song with Maceo Parker. I had given my husband a digital camera and one of the first pictures he ever took was just raising it over his head and snapping Prince. The editor of the Park Slope Paper lived on our block and Bob showed him the picture. He published it and gave Bob a photo credit!!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to swim—for exercise and recreation. I got my SCUBA certification 10 years ago and that brings me joy. For 25 years I have been the stage manager for the Loser's Lounge, which is a tribute show that plays mainly at Joe's Pub, but also in other groovy venues around the city. And I have three monthly card games with three different groups: Poker, Hearts, and Canasta.
Slope Cellars is located at 436 7th Avenue in Park Slope. Learn more about the Small Business Friends Memberships at BRICartsmedia.org/businessfriends.