Whether a singular shop or a location of a chain, it’s sad news when a retailer closes its doors — for workers and customers alike. Late in 2022 and earlier in 2023, reports suggested that the prognosis for the long-running New York City wine shop Sherry-Lehmann Wine and Spirits was not great — with, among other things, a sizable unpaid tax bill cited as one of the reasons for its likely shuttering.
As per a New York Times article by James B. Stewart, the shop has indeed closed its doors, though its owners maintain that a comeback will take place shortly. But it turns out the tax bill is only part of what it might end up owing — as per Stewart’s report, the shop also accepted over $1 million in advance payments for bottles of wine it never delivered.
Stewart’s article cites “internal records reviewed by The New York Times and interviews with customers and former employees” — and, in one more wrinkle to the case, one of the affected customers is Stewart himself.
“[L]ast spring, I paid about $400 for a case of white Burgundy, which was supposedly in stock,” he wrote. “I never received the wine, and the company refused to issue a refund or credit, saying the wine was on back order and would arrive soon.” Soon enough, the shop had stopped returning his calls.
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The article goes on to point to Sherry-Lehmann’s policy of selling “wine futures” — essentially, payments for as-yet-unreleased vintages made a few years in the future — as another way that the shop wound up absorbing more of its customers’ money.
Whether you’re selling high-end wine to an affluent clientele or something much more modest, one rule of thumb generally applies to retailing: a transaction only works if both parties hold up their part of the deal. If a customer pays without getting anything in return, that’s a problem; multiply that countless times, and you have something much worse.
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