The 21st Amendment took effect Dec. 5 1933, bringing an end to Prohibition’s 13-year stint banning the manufacturing, transportation and sale of alcohol.
That same Tuesday—exactly 90 years ago—New Canaan resident Albert Franco drove to Hartford to obtain a liquor license and open his own store.
“His was the first store here on upper Elm Street,” Albert Franco’s nephew, 1982 New Canaan High School graduate Carl Franco, told NewCanaanite.com Monday during an interview at the office of the Elm Street store. “Everyone on Main Street thought he was nuts to be moving up here. He just saw the opportunity and purchased the land and built the building.”
Thus, Francos Wine Merchants was born.
Over the next nine decades, Francos at 130 Elm St. became a staple of the New Canaan business community, serving customers’ needs with expertise while supporting local causes.
Francos started as a regular “green grocer” on Main Street in the 1920s. Once Prohibition ended, Albert Franco decided to take a risk and open the liquor store on Elm Street—known at the time as ‘Railroad Avenue.’ One of eight kids himself, Albert Franco kept the business in the family, running the store with the help of brothers Louis and
Emil, with the additional help of his sister, Lydia Franco O’Neil, who kept the books. About 25 years ago, brothers Carl and Rick Franco became co-owners. Carl Franco took over as sole owner earlier this year after Rick retired.
Francos Wine Merchants—like Walter Stewart’s Market and Karl Chevrolet—is a quintessential New Canaan business. It’s been a major supporter of the New Canaan High School Scholarship Foundation and the arts—including NCHS Theatre and New Canaan Chamber Music—as well as St. Aloysius Church.
Prior to Albert Franco’s passing in the 1990s, the family would host a Founder’s Day celebration at the store, though now they tend to keep celebration minimal because it falls in the middle of the busy holiday season, according to Carl Franco. The family did mark the 75th anniversary of Francos, he said.
“You don’t know where the years went,” he said. “That seems like it was just yesterday.”
Francos Wine Merchants has withstood the test of time, witnessing Elm Street’s evolution and development. With 90 years in the books, Carl Franco said he hopes to keep the family tradition going.
“He [Albert Franco] was the first one up here and on this part of Elm Street, and I think that just goes to show New Canaan is just constantly evolving,” Carl Franco said. “I’m sure New Canaan is not done. It’s going to be evolving for the next 90 years and we’ll just have to see where it goes.”
Laura Budd, executive director of New Canaan Chamber of Commerce, said, “There is no more iconic business on Elm Street than Francos. Carl and his family are not just merchants, they are part of the fabric of the community. Their expertise has been guiding New Canaanites on the best wine and spirits selections for generations. Congratulations and we look forward to another 100 years on Elm Street.”
Looking toward the future of the business, Carl Franco said he’s hoping to continue the family’s long standing ownership.
“I do have nephews that both have an interest in wine as well as a love of New Canaan, and when the time comes I am hoping they are interested in stepping up to continue the Franco legacy,” he said.