LENOX - Following extensive renovations and expansions in his long-established Lenox and Stockbridge stores, owner Joseph Nejaime of Nejaime's Wine Cellars has seen an improvement in customer traffic, though still capped by a sluggish economy.
During a conversation at a Lenox cafe, Nejaime - who entered the family business in 1980 started by his father, Nabih, 10 years earlier in Stockbridge - explained that he shelved plans for a third location in Great Barrington after a potential deal for a site in the Big Y shopping plaza on South Main Street fell through because of what he termed "a reluctant seller."
His brother, James, became sole owner last year of the former Nejaime's, since renamed Spirited, at the Pittsfield and Holmes Road intersection.
The upgrades to the 60 Main St. site in Lenox, one of the town's most significant retail expansions in recent years, and the Stockbridge store at 3 Elm St. cost a combined $250,000, Nejaime said.
Three-quarters of the total was allocated to the Lenox store in the Village Center, owned by Drew Davis of Springfield-based PVI Capital, that also houses the post office, several businesses and professional offices.
As a result, Nejaime's business has been growing as he expected, he said, "but it's below what it ought to be because of an economic recovery that's not really happening. For young people with families, it's not enough."
The Lenox site, occupied by Nejaime since 1999, was expanded from 3,000 to 4,904 square feet to provide easier customer navigation and more shelf space for wine, liquor, regional artisan cheeses, breads and other specialty foods. Berkshire Bank provided financing. Nejaime's previous Lenox locations were on Church Street and his first, in 1982, on Franklin Street.
Nejaime recently signed a pair of 10-year leases for his current two locations, with renewal options extending out to 20 years. He described the longterm investments as a "doubling down" on his family business while contributing to the communities' retail economy. He employs 15 staffers, including 10 full-time.
"It was time to replace the flooring and the refrigeration units in the Stockbridge store," he said. He also revamped the layouts to improve customer flow, create a more inviting shopping experience and expand food and beverage inventories.
"The objective in both stores was to make it more 'shoppable' for the customer, better organized and more spacious," said Nejaime, 55. In Lenox, he received design guidance as well as new furnishings from David Campbell, owner of Kent Store Fixtures in Hingham.
One simple improvement was to transfer narrower wine racks from the Stockbridge site in order to widen the aisles in Lenox, making it easier for patrons to browse and locate their selections.
Lighting in the long, narrow Stockbridge store was improved by relocating the checkout counter to enhance daylight exposure from the large storefront bay window.
In both stores, selections within existing specialty food lines have been expanded, along with an upgraded collection of "fine rare and collectible wines," said Nejaime.
The recent acquisition from O'Brien's Market downtown of a full alcohol sales license by the Price Chopper store 3 miles to the north represents potential price competition, he acknowledged.
"It's got to have some impact," he said, since grocery shoppers might choose to purchase their spirits there out of convenience. But Nejaime declared that he stresses personalized service while making sure his inventory matches distinct customer preferences in each of his stores.
"I never think that I don't have to be as competitive as possible," he said, so he keeps close tabs on price trends. "You have to market to your more critical audience. Then you're amply able to serve your toughest customers."
Nejaime will hold his annual pre-holiday wine-tasting open house on Saturday, Nov. 2, from noon to 5 in both stores. He credited his managers, cousin Alex Nejaime in Lenox and Franck Seguin in Stockbridge along with other staffers as "the most critical and valuable assets in being able to run the business."
To contact Clarence Fanto: email@example.com or (413) 637-2551. On Twitter: @BE_cfanto