PERU — The town's flagship spirits shop is under new name and ownership.
Scott Hite and Mary Ann Cayea took over Swain's Wine & Liquor in the Tops Friendly Markets plaza on Gorman Way from previous owner Bonny Trost.
The husband and wife duo reopened the store, a near 50-year staple in the Town of Peru, under the new name: Livations Wine and Spirits.
"It, kind of, means to live, but then people equate it to libations," Hite said. "Everyone gets a chuckle out of it. It's a good conversation starter."
Hite retired as a State Police investigator five years ago and though still operating a real estate company for rentals, said he was busy, "but I don't think busy enough."
He was on the hunt for a small business.
"I wanted something for our family. This is an investment for our future. I was offered, oh my gosh, everything in town from ice cream places, restaurants and stuff like that. A friend of ours called me and said, 'Hey, this liquor store is for sale.'"
Noting COVID-19, Hite and Cayea were careful to not rush anything.
"COVID obviously touched everybody," Hite said. "Mary Ann works at the hospital so she had more of a one-on-one with it, but to open a business during — luckily this was an existing business. We saw over the past year that (Trost) still was selling and she was still doing well; the business was still doing fine during everything.
"I don't want to make any drinking jokes, but people were drinking this whole time. Mary Ann did so much research to make sure that this wasn't going to fail."
Cayea's daughter Brette Campbell, 23, works at the store.
"She runs the place," Hite said. "I own it, but she runs the place now."
If Hite's daughter, 13-year-old Brynn, wants to join the family business in the future, he said she was welcome.
"It's a family affair. Everybody that works there, knows each other. They're friends of friends or sons or daughters of people that we know."
'MAKE IT OURS'
Apart from the name change and some "light renovations," like cleaning and a fresh coat of paint, the couple said the store feels like the same small-town liquor shop.
Up on the wall hangs a vintage "Swain's Wine and Liquor" sign.
"That sign was on the original building downtown in Peru," Hite said, referencing the shop's original owners and namesakes Marge and Don Swain, who opened the store on Main Street in 1973. It relocated to the Tops Plaza in 1976.
"We wanted to make it ours, but we just couldn't get rid of that history. So the sign still hangs in the store."
SIGNS AND WINES
The new owners had custom metal signs made, adding some signage of their own.
Affixed around the 800-square-foot store, they highlight various sections, like gin, vodka, wine, whiskey and tequila.
Hite and Cayea said they've added some offerings, too, like a larger tequila, gin and wine selection, including more sips from New York's Finger Lakes region.
Livations also offers custom orders, which, if ordering a full case, could come at a discounted price. The owners hope to add a same-day delivery service.
Its Facebook page is full of videos featuring daily deals and its in-store "Happy Hour" board details drink recipe ideas.
To get ready to run the business, Hite joined Trost on the job, shadowing the former business owner.
"I could see right away that this definitely was going to work out," he said. "Bonny is a great business lady. She really helped us with paperwork and inventory things and ordering."
Noting the many Jamaican workers who travel to pick apples at the local orchards in the Town of Peru each year, Hite said Trost had intel about a certain rum many of them like to drink up.
"They like a certain kind of rum. Her store was the lead seller in the area of this rum. So she taught us about just knowing who comes in the store and the day-to-day operations. It really helped out a long way. I still wasn't ready when she left."
Hite said they hadn't seen a dip in a sales since opening April 28.
"We've seen actually a slight increase. We're not sure if that's the summer or our variety, but whatever it is, things are good."
WARM, FRIENDLY ATMOSPHERE
Cayea, from Lyon Mountain, and Hite, who moved to the North Country in 1990, said the shop was centered around the community.
It's the only liquor store in Peru, with the nearest one more than five miles away in Keeseville.
"We want customers to have that personal experience that might be different than when you go into a bigger store," Cayea said. "We want a warm, friendly atmosphere so people are comfortable coming in."
And, Hite added, "If people are stuck looking at something, we will help them out. Anything that we can do to help the customer out and make it a convenience for them — we're going to do it."
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