By Michael Sudhalter
Robert and Mark Chicotsky have played an integral role in continuing their family’s formidable legacy in the Fort Worth Jewish community.
Colloquially known as the “Booze Brothers,” they sold Chicotsky’s Liquor & Fine Wine (the oldest liquor store in Fort Worth) last November to a Houston-based Hot Spot Liquor Store.
Robert and Mark owned and operated the store for 37 years. It had been in the family since 1933 and it regularly supplied events in the Jewish community, including parties and ceremonies at Beth-El Congregation and Congregation Ahavath Sholom.
“We have a tight-knit Jewish community in Fort Worth,” said Robert, who is a member of both synagogues in Fort Worth. “I love working with Jewish friends and people in the Federation.”
Said Mark, who belongs to Beth-El, “We have many Jewish friends and families we grew up with here in Fort Worth.”
Their paternal grandfather, Morris J. (MJ) Chicotsky, immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1913, arriving in Galveston. He first settled in Corsicana, which had been a boom town. He had a salvage yard in Navarro County, which had two synagogues at the time.
MJ relocated to Fort Worth to work as a butcher and grocer. His wife and three children joined him in 1920. They immigrated to Ellis Island and traveled to their new home of Fort Worth days later.
MJ went on to serve as president of Ahavath Sholom in the late 1920s and, by 1933, he started the liquor store, which was located in the Camp Bowie area at the time.
Robert, 71, and Mark, 69, have precious yet few memories of MJ, who passed away at age 75 in 1958, when they were small children. MJ still left a profound impact on his grandsons. In fact, Mark has a striking resemblance to MJ.
“MJ was a generous person and helped people get their start in business,” Robert said. “He gave people money and was an incredible person.”
After MJ passed away, his son-in-law, Mike Korman, became the new owner of the liquor store. By that time, the liquor store was located inside the Chicotsky Shopping Center, in the 3400 block of West Seventh Street, which the brothers’ father, Dave, built in 1950.
Mike’s son and daughter-in-law, Hank and Jane Korman, owned and operated the liquor store in the 1980s, before selling it to Robert and Mark in 1986.
The Chicotskys still own the shopping center and are adamant that it will stay in the family’s hands.
“I’m about a quarter retired,” said Robert, who still manages the property.
His younger brother, Mark, proudly claims that he’s “fully retired.”
“I don’t have any big plans, but I need to come up with some,” Mark said.
There was little, if any, sibling rivalry between the duo. They graduated from Paschal High School two years apart and both attended The University of Texas at Austin — the only four years of their lives when they weren’t living in Fort Worth.
At UT, in 1975, the Chicotskys paired up to win a handball tournament comprising nearly 300 teams.
Robert married Donna, who grew up in Houston’s Jewish community and has grown to love living in Fort Worth over their 47 years of marriage. They have three children and three grandchildren, with a fourth on the way.
Mark married Andrea, who also grew up in Fort Worth’s Jewish community. They’ll celebrate 40 years of marriage later this year and they have a son.
“I was born here. It’s a smaller town with the things that you have in a big town,” Mark said. “It has grown so much.”
Birth of Booze Brothers
Around the turn of the millennium, one of the Chicotskys’ loyal customers began referring to the pair as the “Booze Brothers.”
The Chicotskys decided to have fun with the concept, recording a commercial where they spoofed Saturday Night Live’s Blues Brothers, dressing in matching black suits and fedoras.
Robert starts the commercial by doing a cartwheel and Mark proclaims, “We’re not the Blues Brothers from Saturday Night Live. We’re the Booze Brothers who make your Saturday nights come alive.”
The commercial ends with the tagline, “If you want a good bottle of wine, you might go anywhere. If you want a great bottle of wine, shop at Chicotsky’s.”
They left the viewer with a slogan that really spoke to their customer service and personalized interactions, from a bygone era.
“We had 50 or 60 active charge customers,” Robert said. “They came in, signed their name and we’d send them a bill at the end of the month. They might just come to the counter with a bottle and say ‘Put this on my account.’ And we said, ‘You’ve got it.’ We’ll miss the wonderful customers — they’re the best people in Fort Worth.”
When the Chicotskys first purchased the business from their first cousin, Robert wasn’t sure what it would be like competing with large liquor and wine retailers. But he was pleasantly surprised.
“The community likes a smaller store,” Robert said. “We researched and tried products. We probably lost some business because of the pricing, but most of the people that shopped with us enjoyed shopping because of us and our knowledge. And we gave back to the neighborhood.”
Robert was responsible for purchasing the beer and wine and handling the store’s considerable party and event business. Mark procured the liquor and handled all of the accounting.
Over the past five or six years, the Chicotskys have noticed that many elements of the business, particularly sales, have moved to an all-digital format. Prior to that, sales representatives would visit the store and there would be some wiggle room and deal making — not so in the less personal digital transactions.
While the sale is bittersweet, Mark said it was time to put weeks of 50 or more hours in the rearview mirror.
“The time was right to spend more time with our families and not work as much,” Mark said.
Robert intends on spending more family time and also allocating more hours to managing the family’s small family foundation, his devotion to the B’nai B’rith Isadore Garsek Lodge and his role as vice president of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County where he chairs the annual campaign.
“Eighty percent of the money stays in Tarrant County and supports the Federation, Jewish Family Services, Jewish education and all of the synagogues for programming, scholarships for the kids and teacher training; and 20% goes to Israel,” Robert said.