The revitalization of the North Shore is taking shape with an influx of new businesses and opportunities emerging there.
Tom Ventrone is one entrepreneur contributing to that effort with the opening of Homeport Liquors & Fine Wine at 80 Canal St. in Stapleton.
Ventrone’s father, Michael, actually owned the former Stapleton Liquor Mart at the same location from 1973 to 2001 until it was sold to the family accountant, Ed Torti. The establishment dates further back, as the elder Ventrone purchased the business from his neighbors — the Sanders family – who started the liquor store after prohibition was lifted in the 1930s.
When Tom Ventrone stopped in one day to see Torti, the duo chatted and recalled old times, and soon realized they were both looking for changes to their commutes. Torti endured a lengthy drive from his home in Long Island to the liquor store while Ventrone encountered a 3 a.m. departure to Manhattan from his Colts Neck, N.J., residence. That’s when Ventrone inquired about buying the business.
The Downtown Staten Island Commercial District in St. George, Tompkinsville, and Stapleton has seen positive changes lately as the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce supports revitalization with projects like daily street cleaning service, landscaping and storefront improvements, and installation of holiday lighting.
Ventrone was influenced by these ongoing changes and excited to support the area.
“I saw the development taking place downtown, so I looked at this as an opportunity,” he said. “With the Empire Outlets and all the development taking place along the waterfront, I feel that area will be rehabbed in the next three to five years, and I wanted to move in at an early stage.”
It also didn’t hurt that his family shares deep ties to that community.
Ventrone’s grandparents moved to Water Street in 1921, while his grandfather started as a longshoreman in Stapleton in the late 1920s. His father, who was a barber on Forest Avenue, took over the liquor store and also owned the sandwich shop, The Comet, next door. His mother, Ellen, worked at the Woolworth five-and-dime store up the block as a teen in the 1950s and then later worked during the 1990s at the former Staten Island Savings Bank at the corner of Water and Beach streets.
Despite all those connections, Ventrone – who worked at the liquor store part time as a teenager — admits he wasn’t looking to start a business in Stapleton and marvels how the whole process started with an innocent trip to see an old friend.
Part of the process included Ventrone’s partner buying his stake in the London Meat Co. in Manhattan. Once that was accomplished, Ventrone ended his 23 years in the food industry business to launch this new endeavor.
“I rebuilt the entire building, inside and out, starting in the summer of 2017,” said Ventrone. “It’s a complete renovation. I brought Lotto into the store plus I doubled the inventory. It’s now a full-scale, stocked liquor store with all fine wines and all upscale liquors.
“With my experience from the food industry and working with many high-end hotels and restaurants in Manhattan, I had the idea that it had to be big, it had to be beautiful, and it had to be extraordinary. It had to be upscale,” he said.
In addition to the updated look, Ventrone decided to rebrand the store with a different name. Homeport pays homage to the former U.S. Navy homeport in Stapleton, plus the change allows Ventrone the opportunity for expansion to other parts of Staten Island.
For now, though, Homeport Liquors & Fine Wine seems ready to invigorate Stapleton. And it all started with a simple visit to see an old friend and a familiar surrounding.