Photo: Co-owners Jen Bonislawski and Artur Nergaryan of Art’s Specialities on Trapelo Road.
Artur Nergaryan said his customers – from first-timers to his regulars – keep asking him the same question.
“People will go around and pick up a salami, some cheese and bread and then ask, ‘Where’s your wine?'” said Nergaryan, the co-owner with his wife, Jen Bonislawski, of Art’s Specialities at 369 Trapelo Rd.
That consumer demand has prompted the couple come before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, June 22, seeking a license to sell beer and wine from their new speciality food store, located across the street from the Studio Cinema near the corner of Beech Street.
But the application does not mean the couple is seeking to change the tenor of the store’s character or focus.
“[Beer and wine] is not our main business; it will be complementary to what we are already selling,” said Bonislawski. The couple hopes to carve out a small section of the store near the checkout counter to sell a select number of moderately-priced wines and popular craft beers.
“It will provide that extra something that [customers] said they want,” said Nergaryan.
The Watertown couple opened the speciality store three months ago in the former location of Diver’s Jim. The 1,700 sq.-ft. store front sells an large array of regional cheeses, olive oils and balsamic vinegars, herbs, charcuteries (prepare meats including bacon, ham, sausage, pâtés and confit) as well as loose seeds, tea and nuts. It has begun stocking some prepared foods and is the only store in Belmont where you can buy your pickles – five varieties – straight from the barrel.
But the couple will be coming before a board that has not awarded a retail beer and wine license in years. In the past 18 months, the board has rejected applications by three Trapelo Road stores – each within a few blocks of Art’s – and from Jimmy’s Food Mart at the corner of Belmont and School streets which was denied a license in March. The business has since closed after a fire destroyed the location.
The former board that rejected the earlier bids criticized the nature of the businesses – quick-visit variety or convenient stores – which sold lottery tickets and tobacco products, fearing they would quickly evolve into package stores.
But unlike the previous applicants, Bonislawski contends Art’s Specialties – which does not hold a lottery license or sells cigarettes – will remain true to its current business plan.
“Sometimes when a store receives a liquor license, they begin pushing the alcohol. That’s not the case here,” said Bonislawski.
For the working couple – Nergaryan is a bank manager in Belmont and Bonislawski a librarian in Cambridge – Art’s is an opportunity to break into retail trade with what Nergaryan is familiar with (he grew up making cheese after coming to the US from Armenia).
“We love being here, and we’ve received a good reception from other businesses and residents,” she said. “They said how much we’re helping change the neighborhood.”