The acquisition of the historic L.S. Good Mansion on 14th Street in East Wheeling; making the decision that a specialty wine shop could flourish in the Friendly City; expanding the inventory to offer important cheeses and Italian meats; and taking the steps to make it soon become an eatery and not just a wine shop any longer.
All by chance, and owner Dominick Cerrone readily admits it when asked to tell the tale about how Good Mansion Wines came to be what it is today.
“My family moved to East Wheeling in 1988, and then I would come home for my summers from the University of Virginia. After college I stayed in East Wheeling, and my parents moved back to Woodsdale in 1997,” explained Cerrone, a 1989 graduate of The Linsly School. “Eventually I purchased a few different properties because I was very interested in the history and the architecture.
“And then the Good Mansion came available on the market, and they were asking a pretty reasonable amount. In 2003, this mansion was up for $160,000,” he continued. “I decided to throw in a low-ball offer of $115,000, and two days later they accepted the offer. Short-term I found a couple of college students to live in the area on the third floor just to have someone in the house and to have the utilities on in order to protect the inside of it.”
But the first two floors, restored to their original glory from when the legendary Wheeling retailer owned and lived in the beautiful, stately structure, remained empty until Cerrone spent an evening with friends.
“One night in 2005 I had some folks over to my house on 15th Street, and we were small talking about how Wheeling didn’t have a specialty wine shop. That’s when I first thought that it might work in the Good Mansion,” Cerrone explained. “That’s when I started looking at the math and the availability of the wines that I would want to carry. Thanks to the Greenbrier Resort and the system they had developed for what they offered there I found out that I could have access to a great selection that I believed would become popular in Wheeling.
“That’s when I thought we could make a go of it, so I started talking to a lot of people to do some market research on the local level, but when we first opened in 2006, I had no retail experience whatsoever,” he said. “For a while I used Charlottesville as a benchmark reference point because I remember there being a lot of gourmet food and wine stores there while I was attending the University of Virginia. When I first opened this shop, I thought it would be a really cool thing to have something like what they have there.
“Now that we have been able to expand a few times since 2006, the last time I was there this past May, I looked around, and I came to the conclusion that we have surpassed Charlottesville. Now that we have all of the great wines, the cheeses, and the meats and that we are thriving in an area that a lot of people think is just a forgotten Rust Belt economy, I think it says a lot about what Wheeling is now becoming.”
Fast forward to the October 2014. Cerrone had heard over and over from his customers that some finger foods and oils would be a great complement to the wine tastings he was staging at Good Mansion Wines, but he dismissed the suggestions because of the barriers he realized he would encounter in doing so.
“We kept getting a lot of feedback from our wine customers that it would be great if we could pair the wines with some imported cheeses, but doing that wasn’t really part of my overall plan when we first opened in 2006,” Cerrone admitted. “I always wrote off those comments because we aren’t located in a shopping district at all. The gourmet cheeses are fresh products, and you really have to move them.
“Over time I realized we were becoming more of a venue, and then two things happened. One, there’s this olive oil from the region of Italy where my family is from, and it comes from this very special olive you can grow only there,” he said. “You couldn’t get it anywhere in the United States at that time, so I started searching for it on the Internet, and I found this website that looked like it was American.
“But it was an Italian company, so I decided to send an email and see if I could get some of it without any intentions of ever selling it. I wanted it for me, and I would just give some of it away to friends and family. So then the second thing was that I ordered four cases and brought it into the shop, used it at a couple of our tastings, and people loved it. That’s when I knew there was something to this.”
That one product networked Cerrone with other Italian distributors, so he decided to attempt to tap into the imported cheese market. Once he made a connection with an Italian cheese distributor, he began researching and pricing what he believed would prove popular here.
But Cerrone was not prepared to pull the trigger and make his first large purchase because the interior of Good Mansion Wines lacked the appropriate coolers and utensils to properly fill orders.
But then …
“After I started getting more prices, I put a list together, and once my list was complete, I told the sales representative that I was going to have to get back to him about it because we really didn’t have anything set up yet as far as the equipment was concerned,” Cerrone said. “That’s when he emailed me back to inform me that my order had already shipped out the day before. It was on its way to Wheeling.
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“I immediately called the Ohio County Health Department and asked them for their help so I could handle this shipment in the way that I was expected to,” he said. “They were really nice to work with because they knew I was in a pretty big bind. They helped me tremendously to get everything ready for when the cheeses arrived. Once the gourmet cheeses were available, sales really took off.”
One regular customer was Sarah Lydick from Sandscrest, a baker who was first to suggest the addition of French-style baguettes. Initially, the breads were available on Friday and Saturdays only, but today the loaves are in stock Thursday-Saturday and soon will be available daily.
That is because later this year, Cerrone explained, he plans to begin serving lunch-time sandwiches made with all of the available important meats and cheeses. His hope is that the day-workers employed with Youth Services System, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, the W.Va. DHHR, and several local law firms will join East Wheeling residents on the porch and in the parlor room for meals from all regions of Italy.
“It’s important to know that we will not be able to serve wine with those meals because that would be illegal, but we will have other beverages available during those times,” Cerrone said. “The way it will work is if someone really likes what they are tasting, they will be able to purchase those products right here.
“I see it as the next step in what we are trying to do here, and my hope is that curiosity continues from our Wheeling customer-base and with the patrons we have attracted from other areas in the region.”
He’s built it, and it’s been rewarding for Cerrone to see the people come.
“We are drawing a lot of customers from the Pittsburgh and the Columbus areas, too, and we see the majority of those visitors on Fridays and Saturdays,” Cerrone explained. “It’s really exciting, and it’s a learning process for everyone. They venture in and experiment with a lot of new products, and Wheeling gets an A-plus for curiosity.
“There’s been an energy and that has allowed us to bring even more new products in, and the people are very willing to give them a try,” he said. “One product after another, our local customers have been very open to both new wines and all of the new foods that we have added since last fall.”
Cerrone, president and director of engineering for Cerrone Associates, Inc., currently employees seven part-time employees at Good Mansion Wines, and today there are wines produced in America, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Japan, Lebanon, Austria, Romania, Argentina, South Africa, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as more than 200 different imported food products.
And that number may very well expand in the future because the overseas importers have developed a new-found appreciation for the available market located in the middle of the United States.
“I was speaking to one of our distributors from Rome, and she told me that she was really fascinated with the amount of success we were experiencing here in a market that’s pretty much in the middle of the country. Before that most of their shipments were going to the coasts of the country,” Cerrone said. “She said she was very impressed with the level of energy in a small little mid-America town like Wheeling.
“I believe we have led her to believe that introducing the same kinds of products in these small, untapped markets might be a very good thing for her to attempt to do,” he continued. “And that conversation led me to attend a huge expo in Milan, and that allowed us to expand what foods we offer here even more, and I think it has played into this food revolution that we’ve been experiencing for the past 20 years.
“People want to know where their food comes from now, and there’s more of a focus on local foods from locally owned businesses. There are a lot of these distributors in Italy and around Europe that have yet to tap into that, so I think this may be the beginning of something. It’s fantastic for our customers because we are now offering some of the finest foods from the fields of Italy. We’ve become a test market.”
Cerrone offers his mother and father much of the credit for what has become a second full-time job as the proprietor of Good Mansion Wines for it was they who introduced him to tastes of the grapevine.
“We really didn’t have anything that I would consider nice today because we grew up with the Gallo jobs,” Cerrone admitted. “It was the Sunday meal, in particular, because that was the day when my father was the cook. We always had really great meals, and that’s when I remember the jug coming out.
“We called them sippy cups because that’s all it was – just a little bit to go with all of the great foods my father would make,” he said. “And I guess you can say that made a pretty big impact on my life.”