Acker Wines: The Oldest Wine Shop in the U.S.
What started off as a mere package store in the year 1820 has since evolved into the largest wine auction house in the world, the oldest and most reputable wine shop in the United States, and the world’s destination for fine and rare wine.
Acker Merrall & Condit, which has been in business for almost 200 years and is now referred to simply as “Acker,” is the one-stop shop for everything wine. Since establishing their fine wine auction company in the United States in 1998 and in Hong Kong in 2008, Acker has grown to be present in over ten countries and employs more than 130 people across the globe. In addition to holding weekly online auctions, the firm holds live auctions virtually every month out of both its Delaware and Hong Kong locations.
In 2011, Acker was the first company with more than $100 million in sales from all of its affiliates.
The first Acker wine shop in New York (Source)
Since then, the company has surpassed the $1 billion mark in auction revenue in 2018, achieving upwards of 5,000 new world records at auction each year. This solidified Acker’s position as the leader in the market for wine auctions and solidified its position as the market leader.
The summer of 1817 was a big turning point on the way to starting the Acker business. Matthew Hope and his son James, who was then 12 years old, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to start a new life in the United States.
The “American dream,” if we can call it that.
The father son duo started a grocery store at the intersection of what is now West Broadway and Park Place. James, who was at that time 22 years old, started working at his father’s grocery store after Matthew’s passing because he was “motivated to do better.”
James took the helm of the company and recruited his two younger brothers, Thomas and Anthony, to help out. After some time, the company’s name was changed to Thomas Hope & Company.
After a number of years, John Condit, William Merrill, and David Acker all became clerks at the company. They would eventually go into business together.
As the company expanded, they began to make purchases of property in the area. They also started selling luxury items like “unique vintage wines, pickles, sauces, catsups, mustard, sweet oil, sardines, and a wide range of necessities.” The number of coffees, teas, and specialized foods that they sold also began to expand. The company continued its successful run by forming a partnership with another business.
By the time the Civil War was over in 1865, the number of imports had increased, the size of the business had grown, and they opened up a purchasing agency in Paris.
The business used to be called Thomas Hope & Company, but on February 1, 1858, the name was changed to Acker, Merrall & Company (Condit’s name was later added in 1868)
They were able to make their mark among the city’s elites, which was one of the reasons why the company was able to endure the domestic financial crisis of the 1870s. The establishment of a business on 57th Street in the 1880s that was known for its high-quality wines and cigars was made possible by the fact that the location was convenient for the wealthy residents of the surrounding mansions on Fifth Avenue.
Fifth Avenue became the fashionable locus of New York.
At that point in time, the company employed a total of 300 workers. In 1894, a larger store on 42nd Street opened its doors to the public. In the years that followed, smaller stores popped up all over the rest of the city and the suburbs around it.
The History of Wine Auctions
In the year 1443, the chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy and his wife established the Hospices de Beaune hospital in response to the famine that was taking place at the time.
The hospices de Beaune (Source)
Within a period of four years, the hospital sold wines from surrounding vineyards, and the proceeds were donated to the hospital. The earnings were used to pay for philanthropic activities related to the hospices.
In the year 1859, a modification to the process took place, and from that point forward, the hospice staged auctions rather than selling wine. This inaugural charitable wine auction continues to be held every November, and Christie’s Auctions has taken over as the event’s presenter every November since 2005. The gathering that will take place in November of this year will mark the event’s 160th anniversary.
There are wine auctions held all over the world now, with the most popular ones being the Naples Winter Wine Festival sale in Florida, the Grosser Ring in the Mosel Valley of Germany, and the Cape Winemakers’ Guild in South Africa. The amount of money brought in by each event ranges anywhere from thousands to tens of millions. There are wine auctions that raise money for charity and others that don’t.
The Slowdown and Resurrection
The company’s expansion slowed down, and by 1918 it had fewer than 26 locations. After overcoming these problems, Acker had to change again in the 1930s to meet a new state law that said “each corporate organization is only allowed one liquor license in a municipality.”
At the same time, they started their business at 2377 Broadway and made investments to show that they knew a lot about French wines.
William Kapon, one of the business partners who worked behind the counter, eventually became responsible for the management of the company.
During this time, the popularity of Acker wines spread like wildfire in New York’s Upper West Side (UWS). They were the talk of the town regarding all things wine. Celebrities such as Babe Ruth, Zero Mostel, and Fred Gwwyne were regulars at the UWS.
Michael Kapon, who was William Kapon’s son, took great interest in the business and spearheaded the transformation of the company from everything else to just pure exclusive wines. They weren’t selling gourmet foods anymore. just pure wine.
He even shifted the company’s locus of operations to 160 West 72nd Street.
It was Michael Kapon’s oldest son, John Kapon, who now heads the business and took the company to greater heights thanks to his prowess in the wine auctioning game.
Carrying on the legacy at Acker
To run a successful business for 200 years, you need a unique mix of things, like great products, sharp instincts, persistence, and the ability to change.
Over the years, executives who have these traits may come and go, but the best leaders usually have all of them. And Acker, a company that has been around for 201 years and has been through depressions, recessions, Prohibition, and pandemics, is now run by some of the best managers it has ever had.
This retail and auction enterprise was well on its way to achieving sales of two hundred million dollars in the previous year, building on growth that has only gotten stronger throughout the course of COVID-19. The humble business that was first started by a Scottish immigrant amid the bustling wharves of Lower Manhattan is now a global behemoth that spans four continents and is slated for even greater expansion both domestically and internationally.
Even though Acker is a very large company, it stays true to the small-business traits of focused customer care and personal relationships, which are the main reasons for its success.
As John Kapon the current leader who upholds the legacy pointed out, the history is Acker is intertwined in the history of the United States, and they stand as the shining emblem of the much touted “American Dream.”
Also read: How Wine Auctions Work and When They Started