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Sid’s Crown Liquor
Sid Epstein was an icon in Sioux Falls. His store, Sid’s Crown Liquor was known for its low prices, large inventory, and crowded aisles. What many people do not know is that Sid liked cars. Born in New York City and raised in West Orange, New Jersey, he spent the first years of his professional life running the family hardware business in West Orange. Shortly after high school, he went into the Army and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant soon after. He was first stationed in Miami, Florida. When asked how he got to Sioux Falls, Sid would say “they put me on a train and where the tracks ended the train stopped and that was Sioux Falls.” It was there that he met and married Judee Kaplow. His first child, Henry, was born the day after Sid was transferred out of Sioux Falls. He came home from the service and went to work for his father-in-law. Sid’s father-in-law owned the first wholesale liquor business in South Dakota after prohibition. Sid was a salesman for the company and had the whole state as his territory. Sid learned the liquor business while working that job. Sid would later joke and say he quit because “he had too many bosses.” The entrepreneurial spirit took over and he started the liquor store in 1947.
Sid started out with 150 square feet in the far north portion of the current building, which was a bakery at the time. Business growth required more space. Sid purchased the bakery building and rented his old space to a barbershop. Sid’s philosophy was volume. He sold beer at a nickel over cost. Al Neuharth rented a part of the building in his first attempt at the newspaper business SoDak Sports. The business did not work out as well as he had hoped but Al used it as a learning experience. As the business continued to grow, Sid needed more room. So he cast his eye on the Texaco station to the south.
Following his love for cars and racing, Sid was a regular at Huset’s Speedway. As a matter of fact, Sid’s was the first business to have a billboard at the track. In the beginning, they did not have an ambulance. Track announcer, Dave Dedrick, would call out to Sid over the PA system for him to come down with his station wagon to transport injured drivers to the hospital. According to his son-in-law, Paul Damyan, “Sid said he never exceeded the speed limit but I can tell you it didn’t take him long to get up to the speed limit.”
Sid’s appreciation for cars started early. When he was in the service, his father sent a brand new car for Sid on the railroad line. Sid’s father had connections with the railroad because the hardware store purchased train boxcar loads of wine barrels for New York immigrants to produce their own wine.
Sid was very charismatic and was involved with many civic groups including the Lions, Elks, and Shrine. Sid always was a big promoter of Sioux Falls. Both he and Judee loved this town and were always selling it to whomever they talked to. Judee was the first women’s president of the American Heart Association and was also head of the McKennan Women’s auxiliary. Judee was an instructor in Morris Code at the Air Base when Sid was stationed there. They met at the dance hall. Sid was a wonderful dancer. According to Paul, “On my wedding day he solo danced with my wife and I had to follow that up…not an easy job to do. Myron Lee (of Myron Lee and the Caddies) appreciated Sid’s rhythm so much that he stopped in the middle of a set and played a song that Sid and Judee liked to dance to.” (You may have seen the commercials on TV about the store where a couple of guys were lamenting the growth of Sid’s Liquor and the changes that have taken place at the store. The two guys sitting on the bench are Myron Lee and Jim Burma; family friend and former owner of Carlson Distributing before selling out to Dakota Beverage).
Sid was very good to his employees and many either remained loyal employees for years or went on to a successful career. Marilyn Reiners worked for Sid for over 35 years before passing away earlier this year. Her two sons, Dale and Richard, still work at the store. Dale has for over 35 years in and Richard has been there for over 20 years. Two other children Rod and Peggy also worked at Sid’s. Peggy met her husband there. Amber Westra worked for Sid’s for 14 years. Gary Timpson, currently an attorney for Woods Fuller, also used to work at the store.
Paul took over the business after Sid passed away in November of 2009. He is from Keewatin, Minnesota, a small town on the Iron Range. According to Paul, “In 1975, I hitchhiked around the country. When I returned, my neighbor was Sid’s daughter Robi. She just returned from traveling the world.” Robi and Paul got married in March of 1978. Paul was working as a Bank Examiner and the couple lived in Duluth, Minnesota. Paul took a test to become a National Bank Examiner and got his choice of living in Mankato, Fargo, or Sioux Falls. They made the obvious choice and moved to Sioux Falls in 1983. Sioux Falls was their home from 1983 to ’86. Paul helped Sid with his rental properties around town while they lived here. However, the opportunity for promotion was limited in Sioux Falls so he moved his family to St. Louis and worked out of the Washington, DC office for the Comptroller of the Currency. Soon family needs became a priority. “Judee was ill and Sid was in and out of the hospital at the time. Sid asked for help, which he never did. I knew I had to do something,” says Damyan. “I had 26 years of service for the government in 2004. At the time there were a couple of big bank acquisitions looming that would substantially reduce our revenue and the government had a program that offered early retirement opportunities. I took the buyout and moved to Sioux Falls. I asked Sid if he could make up the difference between my pension and what I used to make. His response was, ‘Shit; I would have to fire everyone else to afford that!’ So I worked for free for three years. Sid was unable to be at the store every day but when we talked at night he would ask me if we had any business today…at all,” recalls Paul with a smile. “He had confidence in me but wanted me to know that it was sales volume that drove his business.”
For the last couple of years of his life, Sid did not come down to the store. He was sick and it was hard for him to get around. He would still go to the bank and make deposits. Since taking over, Paul computerized and automated the store. He wrote computer models for the banking industry. Some of those models are still used today. Paul graduated with a business degree from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He started writing computer programs as a hobby.
Automating the business made it more efficient. A program Paul wrote predicts the timing of products running out of stock and shows what profit contribution each one of their 6,000 items provides to the business, indicating the priority of re-ordering. Sid’s is the only liquor store in town that has their entire inventory online. Sid understood the value of automating but being born in 1914, it
was too much of a leap to fully grasp. He fully supported Paul however. “Sid and I were like the odd couple,” says Paul. “We were so different but we got along very well. We carry more inventory than any of our competitors. We have more and a deeper selection than anyone. This gives us a price competitive advantage. About a year ago, the law was changed that opened up more liquor licenses, which increased competition. “We try to be like an old-time hardware store that offers service and advice. Our employees know the business and can help people purchase wines and liquor that they will enjoy.” Dan is very knowledgeable about wines. Paul also knows a lot about wine. “This is very important to people because we can point out good wines that provide good value. We don’t just tell them to drink the most expensive. We have the prices, selection, inventory and most of all the staff with knowledge. We have people that know the business and can help you select the right bottle of wine or liquor for your enjoyment. Our markup is much less than our competitors. Even after competitors case discounts, our prices are less for a single bottle. Price is important to people but knowledge is invaluable.”
Sid’s sponsored a vertical wine tasting at Westward Ho Country Club recently. We tasted a Robert Mondovi Cabernet Reserve. It sells for $200 a bottle at the club. We had every vintage from ’99 to 2007. I do not know of anyone in the world that can say they had this variety of this great wine from a great vineyard. If we do not have a selection a customer wants, we will find it for them.
Plans for the business are to bring the buildings back to original…both the bakery building and the gas station building. The current warehouse used to be Art’s Texaco. It was probably the largest Texaco station at the time. The station was built in 1935.
Sid was 95 years old when he passed away. According to Paul, “We run the business more like a business today with automation but the cornerstone of the business has not changed over the years. Training is an important reason for the continued success of Sid’s. Current plans are to have the building designated as historic. The Texaco building fits the plans. One of the other reasons to designate a building as historic is the business itself. Sid and Judee were very involved and this should help them gain this designation. We want Sid’s to look nice and be an attractive part of Sioux Falls without making it look like a modern building. We want to preserve Sid’s character.”