90 Years after the Repeal of Prohibition Hodge Wine and Liquor Has a Reason to Celebrate

The Prohibition era

As the U.S. began its shift from a rural to an urban society at the end of the Civil War, saloons started to appear on street corners in poor and working class neighborhoods. In addition to alcohol, these saloons provided a place for political debate and union talk. That became a cause for concern among some of the more well-off classes. Organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement and the Anti-Saloon League regarded saloons as places of filth and corruption. They successfully combined propaganda, religion, and political coercion to make alcohol a divisive social issue.

On January 7, 1920, by the terms of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the country went dry. It stayed that way for thirteen years.

Anthony Pepe

Born in Italy in 1886, Anthony Pepe came to Buffalo with his parents when he was a little boy. He had a head for business. Despite his humble start, he made good investment decisions and at one time was a major shareholder of the M&T Bank. Not only did Anthony see the end of Prohibition coming, he also sensed the opportunity that it would provide for people who were ready to sell alcohol legally. Anthony applied for a license to sell liquor in New York State.

December 5, 1933

According to the Buffalo Evening News, fire engines blew their sirens throughout the city on December 5, 1933. The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had been ratified and Prohibition was over.

Anthony Pepe was ready. On that day the New York State Alcoholic Beverage Control Board granted his license to sell liquor. The following day the Hodge Beverage Corporation opened its store at the corner of Elmwood and Hodge, the first retail liquor store in Buffalo, in New York State, and in the USA.

The drinking culture was shifting from public places like saloons to people’s private homes. Anthony Pepe and his sons set to work, learning about liquors and cocktails and wines.

Anthony Pepe and his sons traveled to Europe to learn how to select fine wines for Hodge

December 5, 2023

Ninety years and four generations later, the store is still at the corner of Elmwood and Hodge and still going strong.

In September of 2023, Kim Pepe, Anthony’s great-granddaughter, took over Hodge Wine and Liquor from her dad, Jim, who had inherited it from his dad, Albert.

“To sustain a family business for four generations is hard,” said Kim. “Only about 3% of small businesses survive that long. In Buffalo there are only a handful,” she said.

The Future

Kim talked about what she will need to do to keep Hodge Wine and Liquor alive and well for another generation. Her biggest complication so far is one that is facing many small businesses in Buffalo — finding help. Covid caused a major disruption in the labor force and workforce participation is still low.

Like her predecessors, Kim wants her store to provide more than what the chains and big- volume businesses offer. She hand-picks her inventory to meet the tastes of the people who shop at Hodge. Those tastes are influenced by such things as whether the Bills are playing or the time of year or TikTok. As it was in the days of her great-grandfather, the drinking culture is still changing.

“Right now it’s all about caramel vodka,” says Kim.

Kim is as committed to being the same good neighbor to her Elmwood/Hodge community as her great-grandfather was.

“I want to provide the best service to everyone — from the judges and lawyers on their way home from downtown to the beloved and colorful characters who hang out on the corner,” she said.

Kim already has her eye on the fifth generation for Hodge. She is teaching the basics to a niece and nephew.

The post 90 Years after the Repeal of Prohibition Hodge Wine and Liquor Has a Reason to Celebrate appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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