WINE SHOP WILL STAND APART ON LONG ISLAND

DANBURY, Conn. -- Stew Leonard's, the three-store independent retailer here, has plans to open a freestanding wine shop on Long Island, in the suburbs of New York City, in September, company officials told SN.All three units -- here, Norwalk, Conn., and Yonkers, N.Y. -- are currently connected to a wine shop. The retailer opened its first wine shop at the store in Yonkers, N.Y., in 1999, according

DANBURY, Conn. -- Stew Leonard's, the three-store independent retailer here, has plans to open a freestanding wine shop on Long Island, in the suburbs of New York City, in September, company officials told SN.

All three units -- here, Norwalk, Conn., and Yonkers, N.Y. -- are currently connected to a wine shop. The retailer opened its first wine shop at the store in Yonkers, N.Y., in 1999, according to Doug Hempstead, vice president of property development at Stew Leonard's. The Long Island project would be the first wine shop to stand independently of Stew Leonard's proper, he said.

"We would prefer the wine shop to be connected to our store, but it is a lot easier to open a wine shop on its own," said Hempstead.

The wine shop will most likely be built in the town of Farmingdale, which is also a potential site for a fourth Stew Leonard's, but it is too early to tell, Hempstead said. A time frame for the new unit has not been detailed.

Hempstead hopes to use the Stew Leonard's name at the Farmingdale wine store. However, complex licensing laws are at issue, and the chain awaits state approval. Hempstead could not immediately provide precise information regarding the size of the unit. Yet he did say it would be the second largest, behind the wine shop at the Danbury store.

While a limited assortment of spirits is available, the focus at the wine shops is primarily on wine, said Meghan Flynn, a spokeswoman for Stew Leonard's. The Farmingdale store will follow this model.

"We offer our customers the best wine selection possible," Flynn said. "We don't have a distribution center, so we buy direct. We get to know the wineries, and all our buyers are certified wine experts."

In an effort to take the guesswork out of the esoteric task of picking the appropriate wine, Stew Leonard's recently enrolled store personnel in a Wine 101 course: a one-day workshop on how retailers can best meet their customers' needs.

Known for its interactive approach to selling food, Stew Leonard's sells wine with the same colorful style. The chain holds in-store wine tastings, Flynn said. Visiting winemakers will sometimes be in attendance. In the past, Gina Gallo and Michael Mondavi have been on hand.