Schneider’s of Capitol Hill
The Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial seem at home on the list of most visited sites in Washington, D.C., but for three years in a row, a specialty wine and liquor store led the competition. Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, a third-generation family business in America’s capital city, is a local landmark and a favorite throughout the D.C. Metro for specialty libations.
Abe Genderson founded the business with his father-in-law, Max Schneider, in 1949. The Genderson family has a long history in the beverage business. Abe’s father, Rubin Genderson, owned a local bar before and after prohibition — and brewed some quality hooch in the bathtub upstairs in the time between.
Abe’s son, Rick Genderson, grew up in the business, starting full time in 1980 after college and a stint running a beer distribution business. Now he serves a leadership role as managing partner at Schneider’s working alongside his brother, Jon Genderson and son, Josh Genderson, who has recently taken on the role of president of the company.
In good spirits
“We set ourselves apart with selection and service — service comes before all else,” says Rick. “We have a small store with a very large warehouse. We import and purchase directly, so we can source good products and sell them at a lot less because there is no middleman. That’s our model — that and to treat customers like friends and family; we’ve been doing it like that for years.”
Rick adds that the business is wine heavy, but not wine exclusive. “We source wine and we have our own label, Barrique Cellars,” he explains. “It comes from a big-name producer and we buy their overproduction. We just brought in a cabernet sauvignon, a Syrah and a chardonnay. All three retail for around $150 under original label, but we sell them for $39.99 here. It’s a great opportunity for the customer and for us — it works out really well.”
Of course, the selection goes far beyond wines. “If somebody wants a good single-malt scotch or a good bourbon, we can get the things they can’t get anywhere else,” he explains. “We bring in a lot of bourbon. We buy barrels of bourbons from the big guys, many under well-known labels, but we have bottles for Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. We are continuously doing more of that — we are bringing in more single malts than ever before.”
“We carry cordials, liqueurs and other specialty items as well,” Rick continues. “As craft cocktails have become popular, we have a lot of specialty items to cater to that. We carry 60 to 70 different bitters, so that kind of thing sets us apart a bit, too.”
After more than 65 years in business, Schneider’s has survived the ups and downs of several economic cycles. When the recession hit in 2008, the company saw a dip, but Rick says things soon turned around. “It was tough the first year, but we bounced back and got a lot stronger,” he recounts. “I’m not sure what happened or why, but the first year our market took a big hit and in 2009, we were back to where we were and went upward from there.
“D.C. is different from the rest of the country, which might be part of it,” he adds. “The government is close to recession-proof. Fortunately, the city has been thriving and it is still a good place to do business. In D.C., we can import ourselves — we have an import license so we are bringing in a lot of wine from Italy and Spain. We’re also buying from a lot of importers and we buy from local wholesalers as well.”
Rick says another reason for the business’ continued success is his great team. “We hire good people and we pay a lot more than the market calls for,” he notes. “Our people make real living and we want to keep good employees with us. They have to like people and talk to them when they come in the store. Our goal is to take care of people — the customer is right — that’s what we strive for anyway.”
With the right team and supplier relationships in place, Schneider’s has plenty of opportunity for growth. As far as physical expansion, Rick says the family owns the townhouse next door to the shop and another two doors down. If the property owner in the middle decides to sell, the shop may expand, though Rick is not overeager for growth.
At a manageable size despite its massive inventory, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill is thriving in the Washington, D.C., wine and spirits market.