The inside of the store is seen on Saturday, June 5, 2021, an Anfora Wine Merchants on Marion Street in downtown Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Last weekend, Anfora Wine Merchants, 128 S. Marion St., celebrated its first anniversary. Musicians played streetside, customers enjoyed a complimentary glass of prosecco on the patio and the shop hosted a vendor curated wine tasting for the first time since opening.

“We used the pandemic to our advantage,” said Adrian Weisell, owner of Anfora Wine Merchants. “It gave us some breathing room to take things bit-by-bit. We really view our one-year anniversary as our grand opening.”

Anfora, a wine shop and education center inspired by Italian enotecas, represents Weisell’s first foray into the retail wine business. And he opened at a curious time. The shop, focused primarily on wines made from native Italian grapes, opened in late May of 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when all non-essential businesses were shuttered.

Anfora Wine Merchants was bustling during their one-year anniversary celebration. Image credit Chelsea Goodwin

From the communal tasting table to group focused classes, nearly every aspect of Anfora was designed to promote shared wine drinking experiences, but the shop entered the community at a time when people could not fathom sitting at a table with 12 strangers. 

Undeterred, Weisell swiftly developed a curbside packaged wine program at price points that appealed to budget conscious wine-lovers and wine collectors alike. He morphed indoor classes into online offerings and began offering in-person, outdoor classes at Cheney Mansion and Pleasant Home to ensure proper social distancing.

The pandemic even made finishing the shop interior challenging.

“We didn’t have access to the materials we needed to finish projects,” said Weisell. “They either vanished or were very expensive.”

With materials suddenly out of budget for the young shop it has taken patience for Anfora to take on the look Weisell had envisioned.  In fact, permanent stone counter tops only recently replaced temporary wood sheets installed in the shop when materials were scarce.

Weisell, however, believes his patience and flexibility will pay off.

“I think we’ve been able to connect with our customers despite all of this,” said Weisell. “But our anniversary weekend really set the tone for what we want summer to be at Anfora.”

Weisell wants the shop to be a festive gathering space where people come to enjoy a bottle of wine on the patio with friends. They have a limited number of wines available by the glass, but Weisell is quick to point out the entire shop is available to be enjoyed for a very modest corkage fee. 

He also considers the close bond between Anfora and Carnivore, the artisan butcher shop located around the corner at 1042 Pleasant St., to be one of the best kept secrets in Oak Park.

“People don’t realize they can get a chef-driven steak prepared at Carnivore while they are drinking wine at Anfora,” said Weisell. “We have a few bar snacks here, but the entire Carnivore menu is available to our customers.”

Anfora is waiting to be discovered by the local community and Weisell is eager to unveil the full plan for the shop. In addition to inviting wine makers in for meet and greet events with customers and hosting structured wine classes, he is clamoring to educate walk in shoppers about the array of honest wines he has available at Anfora. The shop exists to highlight small and historical wine makers who are making wine the “right way.” More than 90% of wines sold at Anfora are organic and all offerings have an environmental focus.

“We are looking forward to connecting with the broader community,” said Weisell. “No one is doing something this focused, and we have a shop worth traveling to visit.”

Anfora recently expanded its summer hours. The shop is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 12 to 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday 12 to 8 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 12 to 6 p.m.

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