– proprietress of Spirits of Mount Vernon, where the neighborhood gathers to toast By Frankie Kujawa
British wine critic Michael Broadbent once said, “Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.” Victoria Schassler, the delightful proprietress of Spirits of Mount Vernon recently chatted with Baltimore OUTloud to discuss her love of wine, how she came to Baltimore, and her adoration of the Mount Vernon community in which she is an icon.
“I grew up in Rockland County, New York,” Schassler began. “It’s about half an hour north of Manhattan on the Hudson River.” Schassler recounted that her journey to Baltimore began when she attended undergraduate and graduate school outside of neighboring Washington, DC. “I spent about 20 years there before I moved to Baltimore,” Schassler continued. “I love Baltimore! I love the neighborhoods and everyone is just very real compared to spending 20 years in DC where every new encounter was like a job interview. When I came to Baltimore I found the people here to be very down-to-earth. People really didn’t take into big consideration what you did for a living. They cared about you the person as opposed to what you do. I found the residents here to be very genuine, and that’s what I love so much about Mount Vernon.”
Speaking glowingly about adopted neighborhood, Schassler continued. “The folks I’ve met here are very good, genuine people that care about one another. We care about each other’s successes and care about what’s happening to each other on a daily basis. I feel like I have true friends that I can reach out to and they’re always there. I loved Washington, but when I came to Baltimore there was a true realization that it’s a definitely a better way of living.”
Schassler’s move to Baltimore is what precipitated the idea that would eventually grow into Spirits of Mount Vernon. “I had the opportunity to live here in Mount Vernon for a little while, but what I didn’t come across were some of the options I had in DC – such as a boutique wine shop. I was working in the hospitality industry at the time, but was ready to make a change, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to open a boutique wine shop in Mount Vernon.”
Schassler confessed that she never really drank alcohol in high school, and it wasn’t until after she left the corporate world that she started to develop a taste for wine. During the two years of renovations that took place at what would become Spirits of Mount Vernon, Schassler spent time studying wine and learning how to be a small business owner. Regarding the latter, she added, “I don’t really think there’s a class for that, though.” Schassler continued, “You learn many things about owning a small business as you go along. What was so instrumental, along with the construction phases of this business, was how impressive the neighborhood was during that process. People come together and were really excited about this business opening.”
“We have some of the smartest people from around the world living in our neighborhood,” Schassler added. “We have folks here from Johns Hopkins, we have scientists and some of the best healthcare professionals anywhere. These people bring an amazing sense of their own countries to this neighborhood, and bring their appreciation to this wine shop.”
Along with selling affordable bottles of wine from all over, Spirits of Mount Vernon has become part of the community fabric. “All are welcome to come in and tell their story,” Schassler continued. “I want to give people their space to do that, so I don’t shut anyone out.” As a member of the Mount Vernon – Belvedere Association, Schassler has donated to many charities and uses her store to give back to the community as much as possible. She has spent time with many local politicians who want to use her store as a forum for what’s happening in the community. She has also held many safety meetings with the police department, as well. “I want this place to be a welcoming environment for what’s been happening in the neighborhood,” Schassler says, “as the neighborhood has been very good to me.”
Schassler explained that there are still residents who are surprised to find her shop. “Spirits is such a little hidden gem. What surprises me, and it happens at least twice a week, is people will walk by, I’ll welcome them in and they’ll say the place is nice and add it’s their first time in my shop. When I ask why they took so long to come in, they’ll say that they thought it looked expensive.” Schassler laughed before adding, “And I tell them that it looks nice because I work hard to keep it looking nice. You can get a great bottle of wine in this shop for under 12 dollars. Don’t let the appearance of it looking nice fool you into thinking we’re not affordable, because here those two things go hand-in-hand.”
“Spirits of Mount Vernon is alive and well, so please come visit,” Schassler said. “If you haven’t been yet, please stop in to say hello to me and Bear” – the shop’s “wine dog” and mascot. “He gets in the window and people love to take pictures of him. He’s a great guy! You’ll love the atmosphere here.” Does she nurture any desire to return to the corporate world? Schassler laughed. “Who wants to deal with corporate America when I can wear jeans, take my dog to work, and enjoy great wine?” With Schassler’s extraordinary community – ahem – spirit, it’s clear that Spirits of Mount Vernon will be a shining jewel in the crown of Mount Vernon for years to come.
- Since 2011, arts writer Frankie Kujawa has covered a wide scope of entertainment stories and celebrity interviews. From the late Carrie Fisher and LGBTQ icon George Takei to comedians Lily Tomlin and Kathy Griffin to performer Idina Menzel, Kujawa’s candid interview ability brings readers past the byline and into the heart of the story. His unbiased previews of Baltimore-Washington’s theatre scene have allowed readers an inside glimpse of today’s most popular local and national performances. A Baltimore-native, Kujawa is proud to call Charm City his home.