After 31 years of selling wine, fresh bread, cheese and more at Market Street Wineshop from the basement level of 311 E. Market St., Robert Harllee has decided to retire.
But fear not; Charlottesville is not about to lose another jewel from its quirky downtown crown: Two of Harllee’s longtime employees, Siân Richards and Thadd McQuade, are taking over. And they don’t plan on changing much: Market Street Wineshop will become Market Street Wine.
In a letter to the editor printed in the July 14, 2005, issue of The Hook, Harllee detailed the history of his shop: Philip Stafford opened The Market Street Vine Shop (at the time, “wine” couldn’t legally be part of a store’s name) in December 1979 and created “the character and flavor” of the wine shop that Stafford’s successor, David Fowler, maintained and passed along to Harllee and his former business partner, Bill Bird. Harllee and Bird purchased the shop from the late Fowler’s estate and opened up in December 1986, with a cash advance from Visa to stock the drawer.
Harllee says that, at first, he waited tables five nights a week to help cover shop costs.
Back in December 1986, there were a few other wine shops in town at the time (among them The Cellarmaster on Elliewood Avenue, In Vino Veritas, Fleurie at Barracks Road, Foods of All Nations), but finding a good bottle of wine is a bit easier now: Nowadays, even grocery stores have decent wine selections. Plus, Harllee says, Virginia wine has undergone “a new renaissance,” which has made not just oenophiles but the average person more interested in the libation. It’s been an exciting thing to witness as a wine shop owner, says Harllee, who closed Market Street Wineshop’s second location on 29 North late last year.
Over the years, Harllee says he’s loved participating in both the big and small of his customers’ lives, helping them choose wines for dinners at home, for birthday parties and engagement celebrations. These are his most cherished memories.
Richards and McQuade are perhaps best known around town as theater artists, but they’ve each worked for Market Street Wineshop in some capacity since 2006 and 1990, respectively. Harllee says they are “infused with the spirit of the shop.” He trusts they’ll carry on what’s special about the shop—the feel of the space, individualized attention for each customer—while also sustaining it for the future.
Market Street Wine will continue to offer fresh bread from Albemarle Baking Company and The Bread Basket, plus cheeses and other delicious things to eat. The Friday night wine tastings will also continue, and Richards and McQuade plan to offer even more specialized and themed tastings, plus classes and other public events.
And in a time when Charlottesville is changing rapidly, when it feels like small businesses with character are being edged out for a new office building, hotel or luxury condos, keeping a small business’ beloved personality is especially important to Richards and McQuade.
The shop has a very “insistent and particular personality,” Richards says, and she and McQuade don’t want to do anything to erase or alter that. She says they want it to remain “a hidden treasure trove that people are excited to uncover” and visit time and time again.“The goal is to make it feel new and refreshed, re-energized, but also be mindful of the years of tradition that are already in place,” Richards says.
Market Street Wineshop will close Saturday, February 24, and Richards and McQuade will replace the floors and rearrange shelving before opening the shop as Market Street Wine sometime in April.