Beloved Davis Square liquor store to be sold after 37 years

Beloved Davis Square liquor store to be sold after 37 years

By Tréa Lavery

The day Dewey Parsons bought Downtown Wine & Spirits in November 1986, his landlord came into his office and ripped the telephone cord out of the wall.

Parsons owned a food service business based in Brighton at the time, and was on the phone when the landlord, who was also his mentor in business, walked in and tried to get his attention. When Parsons wouldn’t hang up the phone, he cut the line and told him he had a surprise for him, then drove them both to Somerville’s Davis Square.

“He goes, ‘There’s your new liquor store,’” Parsons said. “I said, ‘Listen, let me think about it.’ He kind of looked at his watch and said, ‘Well, you got 15 minutes.’”

Parsons’ accountant was already at the store at 225 Elm St., which had been run into the ground by its previous owners and was going out of business. Parsons hadn’t been planning on going into a new line of business. But without too much more thought, he signed to take it over.

“The rest is history,” he said.

Since then, he has run the store, which has become a staple of the neighborhood with its eclectic beer selection and frequent tastings.

He has watched Davis Square change from a run-down area to one of the most sought after areas of Somerville. But next month, after 37 years in business, Parsons will sell the business to a new company, saying that it’s no longer possible to keep his profit margins as an independent business.

With only one location, Downtown Wine & Spirits isn’t able to purchase the volume required to achieve the discounts that larger, chain retailers can. Not wanting to pass prices on to his customers, Parsons made the decision to sell the business to the owners of Liquor World, which has several locations around Massachusetts. The store will become Liquor World of Davis Square.

“(Customers) are starting to pay more attention to their budgets, and I can’t offer the same pricing that Total Wine or BJ’s or Costco can,” he said. “The pricing structure here, when they take over sometime in September, will dramatically change for the better for the square.”

As part of the deal, the new owners will retain all of Parsons’ employees.

The ‘old’ Davis Square

When Parsons, a Needham native who now lives in Medfield, first came to Davis Square, the MBTA Red Line station had been open for just two years. It looked very different from the bustling neighborhood it is today, but Parsons says he knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

“You could just feel it,” he said. “It was coming around.”

One of the first things he did was talk to other business owners on the block, almost all of whom locked their stores and restaurants up tight after they closed for the night, pulling down metal grates and shutters over their doors.

The closed-up look of Davis Square at night and the graffiti-covered shutters bothered Parsons. He encouraged his fellow business owners to stop using the shutters when they closed. Some were worried about break-ins, but many agreed to give it a shot.

“It looked horrendous. It almost looks like you’re living in a possible war zone,” Parsons said. “I said, ‘We’re sending the wrong message here.’”

The idea worked: none of the businesses that stopped using the shutters experienced break-ins. And soon enough, the rest followed suit.

People began stopping by Davis Square more often, whether it was to patronize the liquor store or any of the other businesses around it.

Parsons said word spread about the more than 700 beers he carried, something that was unique at the time before craft beers became popular, and commuters on their way home from work on the Red Line would stop off in Davis Square to pick something up at Downtown before getting back on the train to Alewife Station.

Others would come from even further: one customer from Newark, N.J. would stop by once a month to buy about 30 cases of imported beers to bring home and share with friends.

Over the years, as Davis Square grew, Parsons and others in the area thought of new ways of bringing people in.

Parsons helped with promotion for the first few years of now-iconic events like Honk! and Somerville Porchfest, which brought hundreds and later thousands of people into the neighborhood.

A relationship with the community

More recently, however, Parsons has been able to simply enjoy the community that he has seen grow in Davis Square. In his office in the basement of the liquor store, which he jokingly describes as his “man cave,” he sometimes hosts friendly poker games at a shiny wooden conference table, and he’s good friends with a number of restaurant owners nearby.

When Parsons posted in the Davis Square Facebook group recently to announce that he would be selling the store, he received more than 100 comments thanking him for the years of service and sharing stories from visits past.

“When I turned 21 a friend took me to Downtown so we could grab a tour of the beers of the world. A lot has changed since then, but I love that the selection was always so top notch,” one commenter wrote.

Another customer described an incident from the 1980s when he was a teen, where he and his friends who enjoyed collecting bottle caps twisted one off an imported beer, setting off an alarm, and had to run out of the store.

“I’m also pretty sure that that very bottle cap is in a cardboard box in my parents’ basement to this day,” he wrote.

Parsons said he was grateful to everyone who expressed their love for Downtown and who had ever patronized the business, and said he hoped they would continue to visit even after it changes hands.

He plans to run a 15% off sale during the first two weeks of September before selling the store.

While he has owned multiple businesses over the years, and will continue to work now in software, the liquor store was always the one where he had the most fun, he said.

“Thirty-seven years is no small amount,” he said. “I’m attached to the Square, attached to my customers, attached to my employees.”

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