Having occupied its iconic location at 33 Front Street on the corner of Queen and Front since 1824, Gosling’s Limited retail store has undergone extensive renovations since last year and finally a brand-new store is open!
President and CEO Nancy Gosling sat down with The Bermudian to answer a few questions about the where and when it all began, and what she loves best about the new store.
Where was the first ever Gosling’s store?
In July 1806, the Mercury arrived in Bermuda laden with a cargo of wines, spirits and other items valued at more than ten thousand pounds – a very large amount in those days. The shipment belonged to William Gosling, a wine merchant in London, and was accompanied by his oldest son, James and the partnership’s chief clerk, John Till, wife and daughter. The story goes that as soon as the Mercury arrived, it became apparent that it was not going to be easy to dispose of so much alcohol because there were no local wine merchants, just a few “rum shops.” It didn’t take long for William Gosling to give the nod of approval from London to his son, James and John Till, to set up shop and operate under the name of Gosling and Till. A licence was granted later in the year. The location of the original store has not been determined yet, but it is known that the Tucker House on Water Street (with pier) was owned by the partnership for a short while.
So, before that there were no Liquor Stores on the island?
I’m told that Gosling and Till marked the beginning of the wine and spirit trade in Bermuda. Prior to 1806 there were small stores that imported occasional consignments of rum and brandy which they sold along with general merchandise, and there were probably several small taverns in existence, but the beginning of the wine trade proper in Bermuda is definitely associated with the name of Gosling.
How long did the first St George’s liquor store stay open for?
William Gosling’s wine and spirits businesses continued in London and Bermuda until his death in 1807. At the time it seems, William had a large and contentious debt due to the collapse of a British trading partner which wasn’t settled for years. This resulted in the partnerships being declared bankrupt 1811. A receiver was appointed in the U.K. and came to Bermuda winding up all operations and auctioning off all assets at well below market rate.
Well that obviously wasn’t the end so when did Gosling Brothers start and the Front St store open?
Ambrose Gosling first visited the island in 1808, finally moving to the island circa 1814. The partnership once Gosling & Till became Till & Co and ultimately Till and Gosling before Ambrose left on his own. We know that was around 1823 because we have a rent agreement between Ambrose Gosling & Stowe Wood, dated 16th July,1823, for a shop on Front Street, Hamilton, where The Masters Building was and where Crisson’s Front Street is now located.
That’s interesting. You have the actual rental agreement from 1800’s?
Yes, we also have the original liquor license from 1843 which allows the license holder to “utter and sell spirituous liquors,” and “not to suffer any rioting, gambling, dancing, fiddling, or other music in the licensed shop except such dancing and music as is of a domestic nature.”
So, when did the name change again to Gosling Brothers?
Ambrose Gosling traded under his own name for a while. As the business developed he took his oldest son out of school to join him. The firm then became Ambrose Gosling & Son and on his passing, because his two other sons, Edmund and Charles had joined the partnership in the meantime, it became Gosling Brothers.
Obviously, this was a more successful period for the business.
Oh yes, during the Civil War period in America the brothers were able to open a branch store in St. George’s, the site of their father’s early efforts. Business was booming in St George’s in those days as Bermuda was used as a port of call for the blockade runners to the Confederate States.
If the Front St store has been a Gosling’s store since 1824 how many times has it been renovated or modernized?
The following refers to the original loction in the middle of that block. See National Trust’s Book on Hamilton for info. We know the Front Street store was remodeled and modernized for the first time in 1929, to better accommodate the expanding grocery department, which was then one of the most up-to-date of its kind in Bermuda. The grocery department had required considerable enlargement because of its increasing popularity. It was remodeled again in 1932 to enlarge the packing room and accommodate a fancy new device for keeping vegetables fresh: a continuous fine spray of fresh water.
Fast forward to today, are there parts of the building that are original?
See the BNT book. A lot of the exterior of the building is the same as it was in 1824. The wooden floors in the building are still the original floors, and all the masonry is original. We have changed things here and there over the years—the windows, blinds and doors, and during the last renovation in 1985, we changed the pillars on Front Street below the balcony to the larger white pillars you now see. That was when we painted it blue and white and installed the push-out shutters. We actually won a National Trust award for that renovation!
What was the impetus for this renovation?
Since 1958 this is the the 5th or 6th redesign of the store layout. This is by far the most significant. We have wanted to renovate the store for some time now, but for one reason or another it was always delayed. Global warming and rising sea levels and tides have caused sea water to occasionally seep into the basement of the building, and we can only see this problem becoming worse as time goes on, especially with the King Tides of 2018. We found a solution by building new interior walls in the basement and leaving a gap between them and the original walls, where water can be pumped out if it rises high enough, so that it doesn’t infiltrate the interior of the basement.
The new store looks amazing! What do you love most about it?
I love the wood paneled look, it’s very sophisticated but the whole general layout of the store is so much better for customers. Before, we had only one bottle of a particular wine on the shelves, and a customer would have to ask the sales person for it, who would then have to go down to the basement and find the relevant bin for the wine, then bring it back up to the customer—which was obviously a very time consuming and labour intensive process. Our new shelving contains multiple bottles of each wine, so a customer will simply have to select the bottle and bring it to the cashier desk. The renovated store will also feature a special sales kiosk for duty free packages only, which will be great when the tourists come back. We have better display for the rums and our Dark N Stormy merchandise.
We have wanted to renovate the store for some time now, but for one reason or another it was always delayed. Global warming and rising sea levels and tides have caused sea water to occasionally seep into the basement of the building, and we can only see this problem becoming worse as time goes on. We found a solution by building new interior walls in the basement and leaving a gap between them and the original walls, where water can be pumped out if it rises high enough, so that it doesn’t infiltrate the interior of the basement.
What are the most notable changes that shoppers will see?
NG: The most exciting and noticeable change is the general layout of the store including that shelving, lighting and flooring. Before, we had only one bottle of a particular wine on the shelves, and a customer would have to ask the sales person for it, who would then have to go down to the basement and find the relevant bin for the wine, then bring it back up to the customer—which was obviously a very time consuming and labour intensive process. Our new shelving contains multiple bottles of each wine, so a customer simply selects the bottle they want and brings it to the cashier desk. The renovated store also features a special sales kiosk for duty free packages only.