Wally's Wine & Spirits, arguably one of Los Angeles' top wine stores, is being sold by founder Steve Wallace to a group that includes store co-owner Christian Navarro and Maurice, Paul and Armand Marciano, founders and executives at global fashion firm Guess. Navarro told Wine Spectator he expects the deal to close within days, pending approval by California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Maurice and Paul Marciano are the chief investors; Navarro will take over as president and COO of the company and Armand Marciano will be CEO. The buyers would not disclose the purchase price, nor would they confirm reports from industry sources that they may expand into new markets.
Founded by Wallace in 1968, Wally's is known for its large wine and spirits selection and a star clientele, including Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Danny DeVito and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Navarro, who has worked at the store for 20 years, has expanded that reputation, serving as informal wine adviser for celebrities and supplying wines for movie studios to use as props during filming.
Navarro's clients include the Marciano brothers, who are passionate wine collectors. Knowing that Wallace was planning to retire, Navarro said he and the Marcianos began discussing the idea of buying Wally's several months ago. The idea quickly gained steam. "They are very intelligent and are brilliant, creative marketers, which is what we need," said Navarro of the Marcianos. "They have extreme retail knowledge—global retail knowledge."
Maurice and Paul are executives with Guess, Inc., which they founded with Armand and brother Georges in 1981, after emigrating from their childhood home of Marseilles, France. Known for its jeans and edgy ads spotlighting models such as Kate Upton and Claudia Schiffer, Guess had global revenues of $2.7 billion and net earnings of $187.5 million last year. Maurice purchased a property in St. Helena in Napa Valley in 2008 and applied to build a 20,000-gallon-capacity winery, named Marciano Estate, though the wines have yet to appear on the market.
Two industry sources told Wine Spectator that the new owners are planning to expand, opening stores in markets such as San Francisco, New York, Dallas and Chicago. Navarro dismissed the reports. "It's premature to discuss that," he said. "We're going to concentrate on polishing the company's image and our website." He did say the store's strength is its expert staff and he felt they could reach a larger clientele with their website.
Asked why he was leaving the business he built, Wallace said, "It's time to step back. I've been doing this for 45 years." He added that he had complete confidence and trust in Navarro.
Wallace started parking cars as a valet during his teens and owned his own parking concession at age 20. He later managed a Beverly Hills night club and fell in love with wine, taking tasting classes with writer Robert Balzer. With a loan from his parents, he established Wally's. A few years later, it moved to its Westwood Boulevard location where it has been since. Navarro was born in Mexico City and raised in Palm Springs. He worked in several wine shops before settling at Wally's in 1992 and rising to become a partner. "I hope I can honor what Steve has built," Navarro said.
Armand, Paul and Maurice Marciano (left to right) are longtime wine lovers.