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Wally's Auctions Division Puts Sale on Hold While It Looks For A Partner

The Los Angeles wine retailer is in talks with an international auction house
Photo by: Shannon Sturgis
Wally's held one of two sales of Roy Welland's cellar at Daniel in New York in 2014.

Mitch Frank
Posted: April 5, 2016

Wally's Wine Auctions, the young auction division of Los Angeles retailer Wally's Wine & Spirits, has suspended sales for the time being while it discusses partnering with a major international auction house, Wine Spectator has learned. The company postponed a New York auction scheduled for March but plans to resume sales this fall.

"Wally's is going to be partnering with an international auction house," said Wally's Wine & Spirits president Christian Navarro. "We're doing this to expand our brand globally."

Although Navarro would not name the auction house in question, there are only a few international houses with experience in wine: the two leading names are Christie's and Sotheby's. The wine departments for both houses did not respond to requests for comment.

Wally's auction operation made a big splash when it launched in late 2013, just a few months after the store was bought by Armand, Paul and Maurice Marciano, the brothers who founded global fashion giant Guess, and Navarro, a longtime partner at the store. Navarro and the Marcianos quickly hired some of the top names in the auction business, including Michael Jessen and Julia Gilbert, and held sales in New York and Los Angeles. They snagged headlines when they conducted two sales of the cellar of Roy Welland, a famed collector and former owner of the restaurant Cru.

Navarro told Wine Spectator in 2014 that the auction business was challenging but promising, and that it would increase the retailer's national profile. Wally's opened a new store in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2015 and has plans to expand to other markets, including New York City.

Jessen left the company last summer. And earlier this year, industry sources say, 15 members of the auction division's 20-person staff were let go. Gilbert and several other top members remain.

The wine auction business has grown more competitive in recent years, with houses fighting for top consignments and hosting sales in multiple markets, including New York and Hong Kong. A new partner could help Wally's reach a bigger audience, while the L.A. retailer would bring an attractive portfolio of A-list clients.

"We're finding that by partnering with an international company, there are a lot of efficiencies," said Navarro. "Our goal at Wally's is to create a truly international brand of food and wine. Partnering with an international auction house will give us credibility with people we've never been able to reach before."

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