Washingtonians of a certain age will remember Sidney Millman Moore Margolis, who owned and operated Mayflower Wines and Spirits on M Street NW, near 21st Street, one of the city’s finest wine stores in the 1970s and 1980s. Sidney passed away April 9 of cancer. She was 74.
Before Sidney sold the business, the Mayflower was one of the stores I routinely visited on Saturday afternoons in the late 1980s and early 1990s during my weekend explorations to learn about wine. It had a strong Italian selection, especially from Tuscany, as Sidney’s father, Aaron Millman, lived in Florence and was a member of the consorzio that regulated Chianti. It also offered many of the best mid-priced wines from California and France.
There were certain things about the store that were unique, and they were mostly Sidney’s innovations. Most notable was the monthly newsletter, which she personally wrote on a typewriter (way before personal computers!) and distributed at the store and to a mailing list (as in snail mailing list). The Mayflower newsletter was more than just a notice of store specials; Sidney wrote profiles of winemakers and included personal accounts of her experiences with wine and meals, or her travels to various wine regions.
“The newsletter was our sole form of advertising,” recalls Sidney’s son, Harry Moore, who helped manage the store for several years. “We built the business on word of mouth about the newsletter.”
The newsletter highlighted specials such as Tuscan olive oils and bread brought in each weekend from a bakery in New Jersey. (This was long before Marvelous Market taught Washingtonians to love bread.) It was a reminder that wine belongs with food. The newsletter also included information about the monthly sampler, another Mayflower innovation that has sadly not been copied by other stores. This was a discounted six-bottle selection, different each month, highlighting the store’s emphasis on wines from family-run enterprises.
“We were always interested in wines that were a little bit different and out of the ordinary because the generic commodity stuff you can get anywhere,” Moore recalls. “Wines from off-the-beaten track are an interesting story, and people who want to make wines in obscure places are often interesting stories.”
Several people who worked at Mayflower are still in the business, including Elliott Staren, now proprietor of Wide World of Wines in Glover Park, and Tony Quinn, wine manager at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits. David Schildknecht who now writes for Robert M. Parker Jr.’s The Wine Advocate, worked there, as did Michael Downey, who went into business himself as a wine importer. (Downey passed away in 2002; Michael R. Downey Selections has since thrived under the direction of his wife and children.)
Sidney sold the store in 1993; the space continued as the Wine Specialist under different ownership until last September. She spent the first few years after leaving M Street writing her newsletter for Sutton Place Gourmet (now called Balducci’s). Not one simply to retire, she took up woodworking and created a small artisan furniture business.
Even with her furniture, Sidney maintained a connection with food and wine. “She made a lot of tables on which food could be eaten,” her husband, Dan Margolis, told me. “I’d say half of her tables were dining tables.”