The success of Gary Fisch ’79 rests on the foundation of a liberal arts education
08/31/2017

Gary Fisch ’79 was named "Retailer of the Year" by Market Watch, the nation's leading beverage-alcohol industry trade publication. 

Gary Fisch ’79 admits that his business ascent was as much the product of an open mind as it was hard work. The fine-wine "Retailer of the Year" — as named by Market Watch, the nation's leading beverage-alcohol industry trade publication — will open his fifth Gary’s Fine Wine and Marketplace this fall, in Closer, N.J. 
 
Fisch studied English and political science at Rider, where he was president of the Student Government Association in his sophomore and junior years. “By my senior year, all of my friends knew exactly what they were going to do next. I didn’t have a clue,” recounts Fisch.
 
He took a summer job assisting his father, who was a salesman for a wine and spirits distributor in Kearny, N.J. “I knew nothing about selling wholesale against more experienced salesmen, but I knew I’d be good at sales because I’m a good communicator,” he says. 
 
After his introduction to the liquor wholesale business, a chance visit to a small Northern California town changed his life. While visiting friends, Fisch took a day trip to Napa Valley.
 
“We dropped by the Louis M. Martini Winery in St. Helena, and the owner, Louis, a grape farmer and wine maker, took me under his wing,” Fisch says. “In three hours, he showed me everything about making wine and I returned to New Jersey as an ambassador for Martini Wines. After that, anytime I sold a bottle of Louis Martini wine, I had the feeling that I was selling a friend's wine because he was so passionate about it.”
 
Only 24, Fisch further honed his knowledge at an intensive course at the Windows on the World Wine School in New York City. His timing was uncanny. In the early 1980s, the California wine market was still largely unknown to the average U.S. household. Fisch was positioned to make those introductions. Twenty-eight years later, he is as enthusiastic about his products as he was the day he toured the family-owned vineyard in St. Helena.
 
“Gary’s story strikes me as the quintessential argument for a liberal arts education,” says Jonathan Millen, dean of Rider’s College of Liberal Arts and Science, who sat down with Fisch last December at his 8,800-square-foot retail space in Hillsborough, just up Route 206 from Rider. “He’s great example of how well-honed critical thinking and exemplary communication skills and a broad knowledge of history, literature and politics prepares a young person to recognize opportunities and make connections. Of course, Gary is also tremendously engaging, very hard working and obviously a very savvy businessman.”
 
Fisch agrees that his experience at Rider gave him the skills to recognize opportunities and the confidence to go after them. Without that, he may never have pounced on his first chance to open a retail store, an 1,100-square-foot space in Madison, N.J. “I had no money, but it seemed like a good idea,” he recalls. 
 
Recognizing that “good idea” turned out to be the first piece of an enterprise that today is worth $50 million. 
 
For more information on Gary’s Fine Wine and Marketplace, visit Garyswine.com for locations.