When Frank Greguska opened Discount Liquor in 1960, the spirits industry in Milwaukee was much different than it is today.
For starters, there were no big corporate chains to battle. The biggest player in Milwaukee at the time was White Manor Liquor at 5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.
The brand new, and significantly smaller, Discount Liquor was only six blocks away at the corner of 45th and Forest Home, yet it had one major advantage over the big guys: It was technically located in the city of Greenfield, where alcohol sales were permitted on Sundays. In Milwaukee proper, where White Manor sat, they were not.
"My folks had that one advantage from the beginning," says Thomas Greguska, co-owner and wine buyer for the family business. Thomas is the youngest of five Greguska kids, all of whom grew up working for Discount Liquor and now, together, run the company.
The Greguskas opened a second location in downtown Waukesha in 1978 and two of Thomas' brothers, Frank, Jr. and Michael, operate it. When the Milwaukee Discount Liquor moved into the former White Manor spot in 1993, Thomas and his sister Marie moved with it. Thomas is now the store's wine consultant and Marie the beer buyer.
"We all look at ourselves as co-owners in a family business," says Thomas. "My folks are still here every day. It's what they know. It's been their life."
The Greguskas carved out a loyal following in the '60s by keeping prices low and offering as wide a selection as possible. The same holds true, Thomas says, of the business model today.
"We carry a huge selection of everything -- that's how our folks looked at the business," says Thomas. "Marie has a great handle on the beer. Her selection is the biggest in the city, if not the state. She carries all the mainstream stuff, but she also specializes in Belgian, English, Spanish and Greek beers -- things no one else will have."
On the wine side, Thomas attributes some of his eclectic choices to the various ethnic populations Discount Liquor attracts. "We're right across the street from Serb Hall, so we carry a lot of eastern European wines from Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Poland. There's a strong ethnic community in Milwaukee and there isn't anywhere for those people to buy alcoholic goods."
Thomas says wine has become something of a specialty at Discount Liquor. He estimates he carries around 3,500 varieties and because of the volume, wines are grouped both by region and by grape. The back wall is all imported wine arranged by country and then into regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone Valley.
"The market has changed quite a bit," he says. "What has happened just in wine over the years in incredible -- there are so many labels now. My parents talk about the handful of labels that were around back then -- Lancers and Blue Nun. That was the fine wine section back in the day."
Of course, he can't carry every label and vintage under the sun. "If we tried to carry everything we'd need a store fives time this size," he says." The store is already 4,000 sq. ft. What he can do, though, is take special requests and order hard to find wines for customers. While he's not against placing the occasional small order, he says buying in bulk has allowed Discount Liquor is live up to its name all these years.
But that's not to say you won't find bottles of classified Bordeaux from France and vintage ports from Portugal in the $200-$400 range. Within this massive alcohol mart, there really is a little something for everyone, if you can find it.
"Growing up on the business I was exposed to everything," says Thomas. "I read as much as I can, and I go to seminars and conferences."
The family expertise shows at Discount Liquor and it's a worthwhile stop for those looking to buy beyond Budweiser.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”