CHARLES TOWN – This time of year at Albert & Arnold’s, Kate Brown specializes in helping customers with last-minute Christmas presents that are tasteful, local and unique.
“We make it very easy for our customers to find a gift that’s going to be a hit,” said Brown, a Charles Town native who co-owns the gourmet wine and cheese shop in downtown Charles Town with her husband, Mike.
In the shop at 207 W. Washington St., the Browns offer a wide array of fine wines from across the globe as well as artisan wines from neighboring Virginia and elsewhere.
With tastings every Friday from 3 to 8 p.m. and wine and cheese sample sessions from noon on Saturdays, customers have the chance to sample new arrivals as well as some of the Browns’ favorite vintages.
With so many choices, even those who walk in insisting they don’t enjoy wine are bound to find a pleasing selection, she said. “We’ve tasted every wine we have for sale – and approved each of them,” she said.
Brown takes pride in directing customers to wine that’s just right for a hostess gift or to pair with a certain menu. For those whose preferences run toward ale, Albert & Arnold’s also sells a number of unique beers.Other sought-after offerings at Albert & Arnolds include crackers, chutneys, chocolates and fine cheeses ranging from a rich, peppery Gorgonzola imported from Italy to Amish-style cheddars from nearby Pennsylvania.As Dec. 25 nears, Brown will find herself increasingly busy putting together customized gift baskets. She said many customers select a wine or beer as the basket’s centerpiece, plus favorite food items and extras such as locally made wooden wine stoppers and wine charms.
“We find that what works for a lot of our customers is for them to make their selections and then come back in a few hours to pick up the finished basket,” Brown said. “We put it all together with a wrap and a bow and make it look really nice.”
The gift basket costs just $5 for the basket itself plus the regular retail costs of the items chosen by the customer, Brown said.
Albert and Arnold’s also can help those who get hungry when they’re out holiday shopping.
The store, which sold just six types of gourmet sandwiches when it opened six years ago, now has 24 sandwiches on the menu, all made with top-quality ingredients, including a base of fresh-baked gourmet breads or rolls.
The Sydney Harbor is one popular pick. Layered with salami and Muenster and Monterey jack cheeses, it also has herb mayo, spicy beer mustard, cornichon pickles, lettuce, onion and tomato.
Another top choice is the Stonecrest, which consists of roast beef, a bleu cheese-Merlot sauce, onions and cornichon pickles. The Browns also can whip up other sandwiches according to customers’ wishes.
Whether she’s making a sandwich or recommending a wine, Brown often gets asked just who Albert and Arnold are. She’s happy to explain the business takes its name from two men who played big roles in her husband’s life – his father and grandfather.
“When we opened our business, we wanted to honor them,” she said.
Brown met her future husband, a native Texan studying at Shepherd University, when she moved back to the Panhandle after college. After earning an English degree from Roanoke College in Virginia, she worked in a Baltimore wine shop before coming home to West Virginia.
Once the holiday shopping season ends, Brown’s next task will be to help customers find just the right beverages for their New Year’s Eve gatherings. She’s also looking forward to a busy 2013.
Keeping a small business vibrant takes time and energy, Brown explained, but she is excited at the increased traffic coming to the area thanks to promotions such as Discover Downtown Charles Town’s Third Thursday events.
“Running our own business – it’s our dream,” Brown said.