Times they are a-changin’ here in Newport, Rhode Island. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of moving and shaking with local businesses here in the city by the sea. And as the wheel turns, so the progression continues.
Last week, Bucci’s Liquor Store sold. Located in The Point, the store had served as a neighborhood staple since the 1960’s. Communal and convenient, Bucci’s was a well-respected establishment by longtime locals and at one time, was the highest grossing liquor store in Newport. After a run of 50+ years, the liquor store is under new ownership who hope to preserve the building’s history and keep the same family-owned feel of the business.
Rich Willis, owner of Caleb&Broad, and his business partner Forrest Patten saw something in Bucci’s Liquor Store and decided to give it a go. Although the property had been on the market for some time and warranted a few very interested parties, it wasn’t until approximately 3 pm on Thursday afternoon that the T’s were crossed and I’s were dotted.
“I’m excited and nervous at the same time, which is the exact way I felt when I decided to open Caleb&Broad,” said Willis, who looked tired after dismantling an old shelving unit minutes before this interview took place outside the store. “I have a connection to The Point. My mother lived in this neighborhood, my grandfather actually surveyed the property when it was converted from a gas station into a liquor store and was friends with Tony Bucci. I used to get video tapes, milk and bread from here when I was a kid.”
Like he did with Caleb&Broad and Broadway, Willis hopes to build and sustain a connection with The Point neighborhood. He named his restaurant after the two cross streets that the property is situated on and has built his brand on a locally-driven foundation. “I’m not coming in here and trying to reinvent the wheel. For the summer, we are going to give it a little face-lift, modernize it a bit, bring in some more product and then go for a complete renovation in the fall.”
I asked Rich how he plans on juggling this new endeavor while still running a busy restaurant. “I’m very fortunate to have such a strong support group for this project. Jenn and Ryan have really stepped up at Caleb&Broad and allowed me to spend more time focusing on the new store over the last few weeks. My family and friends have been so important to me in taking this step as well, whether it be helping with the remodeling or just listening when I need to decompress.”
Willis stressed that one of his biggest concerns is to do right by the neighborhood. The store, which will be renamed, will be updated in an old-school, vintage manner. “I want to go for a more ‘country store’ look and that classic feel is the direction we are going to take the concept. It’s important to me that it fits in with the neighborhood and it’s history”
Most importantly, Willis wants the business to focus on strong customer service. He’s getting a sign fabricated to hang over the counter that reads “If you want it, we’ll get it!”
“I think it’s important for people to know that they can come here and order that random bottle of rum that they can’t get elsewhere. We are going to look into delivery service for the boats that join us each summer in our marinas. We are going to deliver to households and business for events and parties. We want to be known for our hospitality.”
In keeping with the family feel that Bucci’s held for so many years, Willis hired his sister Bonnie to run operations for the store. “It’s going to be a family owned and operated business and I couldn’t be more excited to have Bonnie on board.” They have both been actively doing their homework to keep prices competitive at the new store and bring in new products that are in demand.
Renovations have already begun and the store will be closed for the next few weeks as changes are made. Willis hopes to have the business up and running for the summer by the third week of June, with no exact date confirmed. When open, the store will hold normal business hours, 10am-10pm on weekdays, 10am-11pm on weekends and 10am-6pm on Sundays in accordance with state law.
And for those who are wondering, the new store won’t be featuring the beloved rack of VHS tapes that adorned Bucci’s for so many years. “They were gone before the closing,” said Willis with a laugh and a smile from ear to ear, “maybe we’ll do a DVD rack or something.”
We can only wait and see…
Tyler is a local hospitality professional, when not in the Virgin Islands he can be found bartending at Midtown Oyster Bar Wednesday through Sunday nights on the Burgee Bar and at Caleb&Broad on Monday nights for their award winning $10 entree dinner special.
Tyler is a graduate of Providence College and a true Rhode Islander, born and bred.
Email him at TylerBernadyn@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram at @tylerbernadyn