From the outside, Franklin Cellars may look like many other wine and spirits shops, but the unique legacy it carries sets it apart.

The shop at 126 Putnam Ave was once the site of Kaqvet Liquor Store, a well-known Bed-Stuy establishment owned for more than 25 years by a man from the Caribbean named Ernest.

What’s known as a “Bulletproof” liquor store, Kaqvet, with plexiglass to protect merchandise from robbery, was a far cry from Franklin Cellars’ open shelving displaying an assortment of fine wines.

“It was very uninviting,” said Mike Gittens of Kaqvet. Gittens is one of one Franklin Cellars’ three owners. A Bed-Stuy native who grew up not far from the old liquor store, he remembers it well.

Franklin Cellars. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

In 2019, when Gittens heard Ernest was selling Kaqvet and moving back to his home country, he and his friends from the corporate world Alphonse Janvier Jr. and Elliott Bey saw an opportunity.

“It was sort of like the perfect storm,” said Bey of the opportunity to continue Ernest’s legacy at the very same location. The trio decided to change Kaqvet from an old-school liquor store to a modern wine and spirits shop.

But the co-founders had their fair share of challenges ahead. For one, there was the pandemic. Franklin Cellars pushed back its opening a few months before finally opening in June of 2020, amid the ongoing pandemic.

“It was challenging because the base of customers, they were at home,” Janvier said. But the team made sure customers, many of whom were familiar with the previous liquor store, knew they were open for business.

“They’d come, they’d taste some wine, we’d have an assortment of wine, people would come in, it would be almost like a minibar,” Janvier said of their first few months.

Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

“I think we grew a big following and we got the neighborhood to embrace us because you used to be able to just come in and have a conversation.”

Franklin Cellars’ distinctive collection of wines including organic wines and wines produced by Black-owned companies are key to keeping customers coming back.

“We try to stay away from the mass-produced wines people are used to,” said Lam Lai, a brand strategist for Franklin Cellars. “I think that the product that you offer the neighborhood has an impact on the quality of life of the people living here.”

Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

The shop’s affordable pricing, with wines ranging from $12 to $45 doesn’t hurt business either. “Good wine doesn’t have to be expensive wine,” Gittens said. “It’s about your palate at the end of the day.”

Despite building a steady following over the past year, Franklin Cellars is keenly aware of the obstacles faced by many small, Black-owned businesses in places like Bed-Stuy.

“Businesses that were owned and occupied by people who lived in the community for 40, 50 years, they’ve sold,” Gittens said. “Those businesses are now being occupied by people that are new to the neighborhood.”

Gittens envisions a “community-based business network” in the area. “This part of Bed-Stuy is not as established, you know, but hopefully we could be one of the anchors that helps you know create that network that we’re thinking about.”

Franklin Cellars. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

Though Franklin Cellars sits on a quiet street, there’s hope for such a network. The shop is adjacent to two upcoming commercial lots and a large residential building. It’s also right next a touristy mural of Brooklyn rapper OBD, and on the nearby corner of Franklin and Putnam, there’s the bright yellow “Liquors” sign from the shop’s days as Kaqvet Liquor Store.

“We could be a business that just extracts value out of the neighborhood, but we plan to be a business that gives value to the neighborhood.” Said Gittens.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out, how do we continue to build more equity stake in neighborhoods that we grew up in.”

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Christopher Edwards

Christopher Edwards is a Brooklyn-based writer and student at Borough of Manhattan Community College

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  1. That’s what it’s all about. All that marching and protesting is a waste of time. It’s about Entrepreneurship. Owning and operating businesses in your community where you live and working, living, and building in your neighborhood. Gentrification is wonderful because it brings new life to the community along with a mass infusion of economic, educational, intellectual, and social resources that weren’t there before. And those who own homes and businesses and have the marketable skill sets to maintain gainful employment in industries that pay an age appropriate living wage are going to benefit tremendously from gentrification. Only people who are broke, unemployed, working for minimum wage, or dependant on the government for their livelihoods are crying about gentrification. It’s amazing to me, how when all these no money in the bank having ass black revolutionaries, screaming about this and that say absolutely nothing about personal responsibility. Nothing about people can step their game up educationally and economically in order to be able to afford to live in their community. Nothing about making your neighborhood a decent place to live. Nothing about picking up the trash and throwing in the garbage for the garbage to pick up. Nothing about sweeping up your front porch and sidewalks and cutting your grass and planting gardens. Nothing about making sure the children in your neighborhood form study groups so can excel academically and go onto to the Universities getting degrees in professions that will give them a competitive edge in the globally economy. These guys ain’t gonna talk about that, because if the people start doing that, these jokers are out of a job.

  2. There are plenty of black people in Bed-Stuy and various parts of Brooklyn and all over New York City, especially Queens who are highly educated, have incomes far above the national average, and own lots of successful businesses. New York City, Bedford Stuyvesant in particular is home to many educated, well paid, and long established black professionals as well as many successful black owned businesses. I’ve seen it for myself. Bed-Stuy is over 50% Black and has many black professional and business owners living and thriving in their community and none of them are worried about gentrification because they own homes and businesses where they live. The poor, uneducated, and unskilled derelicts who depend on some sort of government handout whether its Welfare, Section 8, EBT, and can no longer afford to rent are automatically going to be pushed out. Even if property taxes go through the roof, as a homeowner or a business owner, there are tons of ways around that. You have multiple tax right offs, especially if you own a business that can actually lower the cost of property and home taxes, you can set up a corporation with pre-paid legal for pocket change and make your home property of your corporation, so the corporation you own can actually pay the property taxes, especially if it’s making tons of money. Plus property taxes are due only once a year where income taxes are taken out weekly or every 2 weeks. Sometimes bi-weekly or monthly. If your income is low and you pay rent, then you have no options around property and income taxes. If a property owner owns several project buildings, he or she has to constantly spend money on things that tenants break, deface, or destroy and must constantly be cleaning up the mess these tenants make. Because people in the projects don’t keep their places clean and don’t take pride and care in where they live or how they live. There’s the issue of institutional Racism and White Supremacy that must always be challenged head on, don’t get it twisted for a second, but more importantly, there’s the issue around personal responsibility, self respect, self advocacy, and self reliance. Without that, you have absolutely NOTHING.

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