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Sunday, December 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Daily
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Steve's Wine, Beer and Spirits celebrates 60 years in business on University
Steve's first opened in 1953.
Steve's first opened in 1953.

Steve's Wine, Beer and Spirits at 3618 University Ave. turns 60 this year, and the shop is celebrating its anniversary this weekend. The store is still family-owned, and in its original location.

Steve and Alice Varese opened a liquor store in the front of their home on University Avenue in 1953. Steve worked for the railroad, and legend has it that he wanted a bakery, a bar, or a liquor store. Alice agreed to a store, and she worked twelve-hour days, seven days a week, at it -- while Steve continued to work on the railroad. The store made $21 dollars on its first day open.

At the time, the house and store stood in farmland, and Steve's son Joe recalls being afraid to walk down what is now Meadow Lane because there were snakes.

Eventually, the store took over the entire family home and then was moved, without closing, to a new building next door. The original home stood on what is now the parking lot.

In 1980, Joe Varese and his wife Mary took over operations at the University location while Steve went to work at the second store at 122 Junction Road, which he had opened in 1970. A third location opened in Fitchburg at 6227 McKee Rd.

In the increasingly competitive alcohol sales market, Joe began taking staff on buying trips to winemaking regions. This allowed him to begin importing wines himself to Wisconsin, wines that competitors did not have. The trips also introduced to the Madison market what is almost expected these days -- sales staff with first-hand knowledge of a winery's product and story.

Steve has passed away and Joe has since retired, and his daughter and son-in-law, Wayne and Katie Crokus, now operate the University Ave location that's celebrating this weekend.

Recently, in addition to wine and spirits, Steve's has added a small gourmet foods market, which features a number of local products such as Gail Ambrosius chocolates and quince & apple preserves.

Friday evening will feature Calliope Ice Cream, cupcakes from Gigi's Cupcakes, samples of Lake Louie as well as a French wine tasting by the distributor Prima. Saturday features Ambrosius, Hawkwind mustards, a gift card giveaway and wine specials.

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