Burton Notarius, who turned Premier Liquor into a household name while sharpening the palates of many Western New Yorkers, died Friday. He was 70.
He bought the original Premier Liquor store in 1969 in Kenmore with his late father, Zellman, and late father-in-law, Bill Drown, after earning a master’s degree in business administration from the University at Buffalo in 1967.
The store was located in a small plaza at 2191 Delaware Ave., at the corner of Girard Avenue, in Kenmore. It later expanded and moved twice on the same street, finally to a location close to Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda.
Over the years, Mr. Notarius built up Premier Liquor into one of the largest wine and spirits businesses in the country.
“We were discounters from the first, and the store had always done a good business in wine,” he said in a Buffalo News story.
Mr. Notarius gained a reputation for his business acumen, philanthropic work and passion for wine.
He championed wines and winemakers in the 1970s, when wine drinking was not as popular, and helped introduce customers to the varieties from different countries so commonly consumed today.
“He was a man of tremendous passion and industry,” said his son Mark. “There are so many winemakers who went on to become famous who remember my dad because he was among the first to buy their wine.”
The store changed its name to Prime Wines & Spirits in 1995 when it became part of the Premier Group, with Mr. Notarius serving as president.
In 2012, Mr. Notarius, whom everyone knew as “Burt,” moved Prime Wines & Spirits once more into a larger building in Amherst across from the Boulevard Mall and next to the Premier Gourmet store operated by Notarius’ sons Jonathan and Mark. Prime Wines also changed its name again back to Premier Wines & Spirits.
Mark Notarius also owns Premium Wine & Spirits on Transit Road in Amherst. Jonathan Notarius owns Prestige Wine & Spirits in Orchard Park. Both stores operate under the Premier Group.
Mr. Notarius’ stores have dominated the wine and spirits business in the Buffalo area with world-class selections, as well as rare bottles and artisanal brands.
He was a master of taking the mystery out of selecting and drinking wine, using a well-informed staff and in-store informational material, as well as mailings, to educate consumers about wine. He ran his stores with memorable enthusiasm and an intuitive sense of what customers wanted.
“Everyone is at a different level when it comes to wine. You have to make people feel comfortable. The challenge in our industry is to become more user-friendly,” he said in a News interview.
His market savvy led him to be named Retailer of the Year in 2000 and 2012 by the influential trade magazine Beverage Dynamics. He also was named Retailer of the Year in 1993 by the magazine Marketwatch, published by the same group that publishes Wine Spectator.
Notarius, of Amherst, was born in Buffalo and graduated from Kenmore West High School.
In addition to success in business, he supported dozens of charities and served on the boards of a host of organizations.
They included D’Youville College; the foundation of Kenmore Mercy Hospital; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, including serving as chairman; Studio Arena Theatre, including as chairman; Hospice Buffalo; Canisius College Wehle School of Management; MusicalFare Theatre; Martin House Restoration Corp.; Burchfield Penney Art Center; Niagara University College of Hospitality and Tourism Management; and Buffalo State Hospitality Program.
“He had an enthusiasm to help anyone, whether it was a charity or another retailer. It wasn’t just about what was good for him,” said Mark Notarius. “He loved to give.”
In addition to his sons, he is survived by his wife of 47 years, the former Patricia Drown; three brothers, David, Edward and Michael; and two grandchildren.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Temple Beth Zion, 805 Delaware Ave.