This article was posted a month ago, but I just found it. I think you have to register to the site to view the article so I posted some of it here. Lenell's has been high on my list of places to visit when I'm in NY so I hope they find a new home!
A Neighborhood Fixture Faces an Uncertain Future:
By MICHAEL WILSON
Published: August 11, 2007
"LeNell’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn, has won a devoted following but must move next summer when its lease is up. It has not yet found a new home."
New York City liquor stores generally tend toward the glum or the precious, involving either hurried exchanges with bulletproof glass and brown bags or bright, sleek shops that look more like U.F.O.’s. LeNell’s, a liquor store in Red Hook, has always aimed for a laid-back feel, with its sign out front advertising “likker,” and a coming wine tasting called “Rosé Ain’t for Wimps” and a cat named Whiskey sleeping among bottles of its namesake.
But lately, LeNell’s has been tense, where one might hear words as harsh as the clear Georgia Moon corn whiskey it sells in glass jars. The owner herself, LeNell Smothers, a salty, 36-year-old Southern fixture in this Brooklyn neighborhood historically known for its drinking men, has spiced her language even more of late, greeting a reporter this week with a tirade of obscenities.
“I don’t appreciate being ambushed,” she said, more or less, before calming down and explaining why this year, her fourth, will be her store’s last at 416 Van Brunt Street.
The building’s new owner wants the space for his own interests, and nothing has persuaded him to let the liquor store extend its lease, which is up next summer, Ms. Smothers said. She says she plans on relocating the store, but its new site remains uncertain.
For neighbors, the closing of LeNell’s liquor store would be the loss of a favorite. Many regard it the best in the city, whether for a quick stop for a bottle of throw-down shiraz on the way home or for something more specialized, like Isaiah Morgan rye whiskey from West Virginia, or absinthe fountains with little spigots, or that jar of corn liquor that burns the throat just to look at. There are sections focusing on female winemakers and black winemakers and distillers. Try finding those things behind bulletproof glass.
“We do a lot of education,” Ms. Smothers said. “A lot of cocktail demonstrations. We teach people how to drink, basically. We go above and beyond.”
A native of Fort Payne, Ala., Ms. Smothers worked as an administrator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and as a bartender. Among her favorite places to visit was Lou’s Pub and Package Store, a tiny shop that is more of a little bar crowded with customers — reporters, laborers and lawyers — whom the owner, Louis Zaden, either berates or calls “Baby.” Sometimes he does both.
“Lou’s has been such an inspiration to me,” she said. “Just the atmosphere for creating a good time for people and not being pretentious or chichi. That’s the place I’d go when I wanted to show someone a good time.”
She left Alabama for New York in 2000 and worked at other stores, all the while looking for somewhere to open her own place, and finally settled in Red Hook in 2003, equally charmed by the quiet streets and the rough patches. “It’s like a small town over here,” she said. “It’s a little piece of what I’m used to back home. It’s a nosy little neighborhood, where everybody knows everybody.”
She ignored the advice of longtime residents to increase security. If not bulletproof glass, at least keep the front door locked and buzz in customers, they said. “But that’s not the way I do business,” she said. “I wanted it to be homey and cozy and warm and welcoming.”
She brought stuff from Alabama, including a chandelier and a working fountain built around a boy apparently relieving himself. “I’ve got pieces in here that were from my grandmother’s shed,” she said. She added other touches, like the bathtub full of vodka bottles in the front window and the baby single malts in a vintage baby carriage.
She basically worked alone for two years, staying open until midnight, and as business grew, so did her staff, now four people. Her mailing list has 5,500 names on it, from all over, but mostly in the 11231 ZIP code for Red Hook.
The building was bought in 2005 by Bococa Realty L.L.C., according to building records. Ms. Smothers said she learned early this year that there was no interest in renewing her lease. Bloggers posted rumors that the store was priced out of Red Hook or was the latest victim of real estate development. Neither is true, she said. Subhash Chilka, the man Ms. Smothers said owns the building, did not respond to calls to his work phone or cellphone.
Ideally, Ms. Smothers would like to move within the 1,000-foot boundary that, under city regulations, would allow the relatively simple transfer of her liquor license. But there is no place to go, she said.
“There are not many storefronts in Red Hook,” she said. “Then you have a gazillion vacant lots. I’ve talked to everybody in my range. Nobody’s willing to build.”
Next summer sounds far off, but not when construction or renovation time is considered, and the months it could take to get a new license, she said.
“People don’t want me to move. I’ve had customers offer me not really viable spaces, but spaces in the neighborhood. It’s sweet, that people would want to keep me here.”
She is proudly stubborn on where to look next. “If I’m not in Red Hook, I’m not interested in Brooklyn,” she said. “This is where I live. I don’t like the idea of opening a business and not being part of the community where that business is. I’m kind of old-fashioned that way.”
That said, “I have to do what’s good for the business,” she said, and that would most likely mean moving to Manhattan, she said. “It’s going to be difficult,” she said. “It’s a saturated borough.”
Her dream is to reopen the liquor store with her own little bar next door, sort of like Lou’s back home. If she has design plans beyond that, she’s not saying.
“I can’t reveal all my secrets,” she said. “But it will have a strong bourbon selection.”