By Kevin Noonan
Kreston Wine & Spirits has been at the corner of Concord Avenue and Broom Street in Wilmington for 90 years. That means they were there when Philadelphia won the World Series — the Athletics, not the Phillies. And they were there when Philadelphia joined the NFL — the Yellowjackets, not the Eagles.
They’ve also been there during the terms of 16 presidents, 17 governors and 18 mayors. And, more importantly, they’ve been there through four generations of the Kreston family.
“It’s always been a family operation and we hope it will always be a family operation,” says Jeff Kreston, who joined the business after graduating from Wesley College in 2012.
The Krestons mark 1933 as their start-up date, although it actually goes back earlier than that. It started with Samuel Kreston, Jeff’s great-grandfather. Samuel operated an Esso gas station at a location that was on the edge of civilization, at least as far as early-1930s Wilmington was concerned. What eventually turns into Concord Pike was just a two-lane road that led to, well, nowhere. There was no I-95, there were no neighborhoods, there was no Fairfax Shopping Center, no Charcoal Pit. Once you passed Kreston’s, you were in the country.
Samuel Kreston got into the liquor business in 1933 when Prohibition ended. America was mighty thirsty by then and Samuel decided to take advantage of that thirst. He took a corner of his gas station and stocked it with alcoholic beverages and the booze business took off — and Samuel discovered he liked selling liquor more than fixing cars. Plus, at the end of the day his fingernails were a lot cleaner. So, he closed his gas station and Kreston Liquor Mart was born.
A Family Affair
Nine decades later, it’s known as Kreston Wine & Spirits, but one important thing hasn’t changed — the Kreston family still runs the business. Jeff and his father, Bob, oversee the day-to-day operations and Jeff’s mother, Carolyn, does the bookkeeping.
Even though it seems as if joining the family enterprise was an inevitable part of their heritage, both Jeff and Bob Kreston say they were never pressured to follow the same path.
“Not at all. I always wanted to do this,” Jeff Kreston says. “I went to Wesley as a business major because I wanted to make sure I had the background to be able to help us in that part of the operation. Coming back here to work was always the plan.”
At the same time, he was self-conscious about jumping into the family business when many employees had been with Kreston much longer, some even decades.
“I started at the bottom, sweeping up and things like that,” Jeff says. “My father and grandfather made sure we earned everything we got and that we learned everything we needed to learn about this business. There were no shortcuts just because we were in the family.”
Jeff’s father has a similar story — Bob Kreston worked at the store during the summers when he was a teenager and always knew it would end up being his career. He began full-time in 1986 after graduating from the University of Delaware with a business degree.
“I never wanted to do anything else, but that was completely my decision,” Bob Kreston says. “I always wanted to work with my father [Donald Kreston]. I watched him and the way he did business and interacted with people and I always wanted to be here with him. I enjoyed it then and I enjoy it now.”
But not all the Krestons gravitate to the family business. Bob Kreston tells the story of one female family member who was going to start working at the store.
“She came in in the morning, went to lunch and never came back,” Bob says with a laugh. “And that was fine. Everyone has to decide what their path is going to be and you have to be happy with what you do.”
He Means Business
Bob Kreston says his father, Donald, was the one who took the business to a higher level. And that’s because his grandfather, Samuel, was stuck in his ways — which, to Donald, wasn’t the way to run things.
“I credit my father with the success we’ve had, because my grandfather wasn’t a fan of change,” Bob says. “He did things a certain way and that was it, no questions, no discussion. It wasn’t until my grandfather retired that my father was able to put his vision and his ideas to work. And that’s when the business really took off.”
Says Jeff: “My great-grandfather’s philosophy was that if things were working, then why change? He was really stubborn that way.
“So, it was really my grandfather who is responsible for what we are today. He even put an extra mortgage on his home so he could add additional parking. He had a vision for this business and then he made it happen.”
Donald Kreston, who started in the business in 1956, died 16 years ago, and his son is grateful for the camaraderie the two had, especially considering the conflicts between Samuel and Donald.