Sherry-Lehmann’s owners have allegedly treated New York’s premier wine shop like their own personal booze stash — helping themselves to rare, pricey vintages on the company dime even as angry customers claim that they’re not getting the deliveries they paid for, The Post has learned.
As first reported by The Post, sources said the iconic, 88-year-old vintner is in danger of closing its doors as it has racked up a $3.1 million sales tax bill to New York state. It’s also allegedly in arrears with suppliers and clients alike: Last week, a pair of well-heeled wine aficionados sued the shop, claiming they’re owed more than $800,000 worth of undelivered goods.
Meanwhile, former and current employees told The Post that the store’s two owners — who took over the business a decade ago from the Aaron family that founded it in 1934 after the end of Prohibition — allegedly have fallen into the conspicuous habit of treating themselves to the store’s top-shelf wines.
CEO Shyda Gilmer, who joined Sherry-Lehmann in his 20s as a sales rep and became a partner in the business in 2007, and Kris Green, who worked at hedge funds before making an investment in Sherry-Lehman in 2013, frequently snatched booze from the shelves as they went out to dine at swanky eateries nearby such as Nobu 57, La Goulue and The Post House, sources said.
They weren’t packing off with budget-friendly specials — instead toting bottles of rare Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux that would have fetched hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars at the store, according to sources.
“When your staff sees you walking out the door with two magnums of Champagne and Burgundy every day, that doesn’t send a good message,” said a former Sherry-Lehmann executive, noting that the boss’s lunches and dinners were notoriously lengthy. “We used to joke that Nobu 57 was [Gilmer’s] office from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.”
To be sure, management under Sherry-Lehmann’s founding Aaron family had helped themselves to free product, insiders said. But they mostly tapped the abundant supply of samples that were sent by vineyards and distributors hoping to earn a coveted spot on the store’s shelves, a person with direct knowledge told The Post.
Past owners — whose clients over the decades had included Greta Garbo and Andy Warhol — “never treated themselves in such an ostentatious manner,” one former executive told The Post. They “didn’t deplete the store’s inventory, which is just bad business.”
In a written response to the allegations, a spokesman for Sherry-Lehmann told The Post, “We are very proud of the fact that our company has supported NYC restaurants for almost 90 years. We will continue to frequent our city’s world-renowned restaurants, as well as host and entertain our current and potential customers, suppliers and producers at these amazing establishments.”
The rep added: “The current management team at this storied New York retail institution is focused on offering the world’s best wine and spirits while delivering stellar customer service to our valuable patrons. Sherry-Lehmann looks to continue serving our discerning customers for decades to come.”
The iconic shop at 505 Park Ave. has lately been plagued by spotty shelves, with shoppers in disbelief that they can’t buy old standbys like Dom Perignon. The once-vaunted white Burgundy section, which lay mostly empty when a Post reporter visited last week, has since been replenished — but with cheap bottles priced at $20 and up instead of the rare Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne and Mersault the store had been known to offer.
Working at Sherry-Lehmann is like being “the shortstop for the New York Yankees,” the source added. “You are at the pinnacle of your profession if you worked there, so people are angry and upset by what’s happened to the business.”
Sherry-Lehmann staffers were also supposedly instructed to send cases of fancy Champagne, Burgundy and rose to Gilmer’s summer rental pad in the Hamptons at zero cost to him — and the tab rose to staggering heights, according to sources.
“Someone tallied up the free orders of wine over one summer and it was enough to buy two new cars,” said a former employee.
Gilmer and Green declined to comment through a spokesperson. In a written statement, the company defended the freebies, insisting the practice wasn’t unusual.
“It has been a long-standing company marketing practice to have senior executives host client dinners and other tasting events at their homes — during which we feature selections from our product offerings,” the company said in a statement.
As Sherry-Lehmann’s inventory has taken a hit, local customers who have been unable to reach the company on the phone have come to the store “raising hell,” asking for refunds for undelivered products, employees say.
Sherry-Lehmann has “the most devoted customer base I’ve seen anywhere,” said one former sales rep. “They’ll still order from the store even though they haven’t received a previous order from months ago. No other store in the world could get away with this for as long.”
According to the suit filed last week, two New York-based plaintiffs who have been customers for the past 20 years claim they got stiffed on more than $800,000 worth of prize Bordeaux — cases of Chateau Margaux, Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
The rare bottles — priced anywhere from $375 to $1,130 each — were supposed to be delivered in 2019 and in some instances have since doubled in value, according to the complaint filed in New York court.
Sherry-Lehmann said in a statement that the lawsuit “has no merit,” because the company “offered the customers a full refund of their deposit — which they declined.” The company added that the wine is “scheduled to arrive in mid-February.”
Sheldon Gopstein, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, shot back that his clients “were left with no choice but to commence litigation after multiple broken promises, assurances and face-to-face meetings with Sherry-Lehmann personnel.
“My clients are not in the business of handing out interest-free loans,” Gopstein sniffed, noting that his clients are demanding either the wine or a cash sum equal to its current market value.
Similar gripes have been rampant on the web, with a San Francisco-based customer complaining on Yelp in October about an August order that still hadn’t arrived.
“They advertise wine they don’t actually have in stock, charge your credit card, telling you the wine is coming ‘next week’ and when you finally give up after months of waiting and ask for a refund they sit on it for weeks,” according to the Oct. 6 Yelp post. “Used to be a great place, I used to spend thousands of dollars a year with them but something horrible has happened.”
As for the tax issue, a Sherry-Lehmann spokesman said the company is “actively working” to resolve it, claiming that it “began under our former CEO in the midst of COVID” and that the company has been making monthly payments since the spring and is paying all of its current tax obligations and will continue to do so.
“We are meeting the company’s current financial obligations with vendors and suppliers on a timely basis as we address any past payments due to them,” the company added. “Our shipment policy is straightforward: as soon as we receive purchased product from our suppliers, we ship it to our customers.”
Gilmer and Green — despite a botched bid a few years earlier to expand Sherry-Lehmann into a national chain — also supposedly have enjoyed lavish travel perks, regularly taking helicopters and private jets to the Hamptons and Saratoga Springs to schmooze with wealthy clients and vendors at racing and auction events, sources claimed.
The pair are said to be regulars at The Masters, Wimbledon and the Super Bowl and — to the consternation of staff — the pair in recent weeks have been in Paris, just as the crucial holiday selling season is ramping up, according to sources.
The company responded that its senior executives “are often invited by suppliers and customers to attend cultural and sporting events and dinners, on personal and commercial airfare supplied by them.”
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