The "Happy Anniversary" balloon that floats above bouquets of roses in front of Pam Urso doesn’t refer to her marriage but to the date when she and husband Bruce took over the Bottle Shop in Unionville.
Pam’s a familiar face around town; she worked at the Bottle Shop for the seven years it was owned by her mother and stepfather Donna and Chick Pritchard. Bruce worked for 20 years for Hartford Distributors, selling beer.
When the Pritchards were ready to retire, Pam and Bruce took a chance on making the store their own.
“We’re grateful to them,” Bruce said. “When they decided to retire, they gave us a great opportunity to start the next chapter in our lives.”
And the couple has enjoyed running the store together.
“Oh my gosh, we have fun here,” Pam said. “We’re funny together. We do work well together - some people are hesitant about working with their spouse - we have a good rhythm together.”
They look forward to seeing their regular customers each day, too. While Bruce wanders through the store stocking shelves, Pam greets each customer by name with a smile.
“Everybody knows everybody - it’s like Cheers here. We know about everybody’s kids, grandkids, their health, travels,” Pam said, adding that sometimes customers will come in and ask for referrals unrelated to libations, such as who is a good electrician, or which dance studio to choose.
“I managed the store for my mother for the seven years she owned it so I knew everybody. An array of people come in – from your retired person to your stay-at-home mom or dad to corporate to working people. And the kids love coming in with their parents because we give out candy,” Pam said.
But though Pam’s cheerful smile didn’t change when the pair took over the store, many things did.
They restored the historical name to the Bottle Shop and began to expand their selection of wines, beers and liquors. They covered the floor in half-racks to store more varietals of wine their customers were requesting. A walk-in cooler in the back offers customers a greater selection of beer.
The couple also changed their pricing to be more competitive and added more services.
“We set up stag parties, showers, weddings. We’re currently setting up for a benefit for the Farmington Exchange. We set up the keg, bring the wine, ice and raffle prize,” Pam said.
But the first few weeks were rough when the Ursos were settling into their new store. A week after they took over, the October snowstorm hit and they were without power for more than a week. And they stayed open anyway.
Then Pam’s dad – her best friend – passed away.
The Ursos pressed on and business took off.
“Everyone was excited to see the changes made here,” Pam said. “Having new and more products while we kept the staple stuff."
Now, the couple has their eyes set on bigger plans.
Three years ago they bought the building that housed the store and its former neighbor DJs Country Store, knowing someday they’d like to expand. When DJs went out of business last year, they decided to do just that.
“We’re about doubling our size,” Pam said. “We’re going to be 3,000 square feet so we can bring in more of what the customers are asking for.”
The renovation is already underway and the Ursos hope to complete the expansion in the next few months.
For updates, locals can like the Bottle Shop on Facebook or stop in at 20 South Main St., Unionville.
Store hours are Monday through Wednesday – 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday – 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.