In a minimalist condo in the Cityline at Tenley building, the founding members of the Washington Area Liquor Retailers Association are holding one of their first board meetings. A bottle of liquor and an Asian statuette stand in for decorations; the members—President H. Singh Bakshi, Vice President S.P. Toor, Treasurer Sarbjit Kochhar, and Secretary Vivek Bhargava—lounge in chairs and black-leather couches.
“Charity begins from home,” says the 58-year-old Bakshi, owner of Tenley Wine & Liquor, regarding the group’s decision this spring to organize D.C.’s Indian-owned, Class A liquor stores into a unified force.
The nonprofit’s goals are many: to get fair deals from wholesalers, to provide help to members in legal trouble, to stymie underage buyers and other would-be criminals with a phone-tree alert system. For years, many of the city’s Korean-owned businesses have had a similar arrangement. So far, the association has roped in more than 30 Indian-owned stores out of the city’s 42 (though entrepreneurs of all races are welcomed), and spirits are running high.
“We were a few of the pioneers who initially took over from either the Jewish- or Korean-community owners,” the former of whom controlled D.C.’s liquor trade since Prohibition, says Bakshi. “As a group we want to be heard,” adds Kochhar, 53, owner of S&S Liquors in Brightwood. “Already wholesalers have called to work with us.”
Toor teases Bakshi over this reporter’s request for his age: “Beautiful girls will be calling you up now.” “No,” jokes the president. “Now beautiful girls will be calling you up to get a deal!”