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Meet Maria Chong, the new owner of McReynold’s Liquors

File Photo by Lily Speredelozzi | Senior Staff Photographer
Stacks of spirits line McReynold’s Liquors in January 2023.

Students likely noticed a new face behind the counter at McReynold’s Liquors during their last-minute Friday pilgrimages to the store.

Maria Chong, a 48-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, bought McReynold’s from beloved former owners Matthew and Sophia Kimwon after their decade-plus of ownership of the shop ended so they could care for Matthew’s family in South Korea. The news devastated the store’s most loyal customers, GW students, some of whom flocked to McReynold’s after the announcement to wish the Kimwons goodbye and show their appreciation for years of service.

In the eyes of students, Chong has big shoes to fill. The Kimwons won the hearts of the GW community during their 11 years at the store, witnessing budding student romances, presidential election festivities and graduation photoshoots from behind the counter.

But Chong is cool, calm and collected about the business venture, with almost 20 years of experience in the liquor sales industry. She said she already knows a few regular customers’ names and faces. As the store’s owner, she plans to try her best every day, be kind to customers and enjoy working, she said.

“Customers become my best friend,” Chong said.

Chong previously owned a liquor store in Peachtree City, Georgia, but said she hoped to be nearer to her children, who are 14 and 16 years old and attend boarding school in the District. She said she spent about a year searching for a business like McReynold’s, which she liked because of its proximity to GW and the White House.

She said she visited McReynold’s once last September shortly after students returned to campus from summer break and noticed the “very busy” flow of business and warm customers. Once she and the Kimwons inked the sale — she declined to discuss the terms — she only needed two weeks of transition training due to her prior experience running liquor stores. 

“Two weeks was enough,” Chong said. “[The Kimwons] are very nice, so I could go to them any time if I have a question, but I don’t like to bother people.”

In her few weeks of ownership, Chong has already moved the check-out counter to the front of the store to open up the space and reorganized some of the shelving to make it more organized. Chong also tentatively plans to start hosting tastings on Fridays, but said she wants to clear out more room first.

She said she’s also added a life-sized cardboard cutout of K-pop star Jennie, a member of BLACKPINK, who holds a shot glass of soju by the sliding-door refrigerator at the front of the store for potential customer photo ops.

“Everybody seems to be very friendly and nice,” Chong said.

She said she also now sees her children every weekend and blocks out her whole social schedule on Sundays — the one day McReynold’s is closed — to be with them.

Chong said she wants to keep prices as low as possible, despite inflation out of her control, and only plans to change the store’s inventory to suit the desires of her customers. Under her reign, the store will also continue to offer a 10 percent discount on beer and wine for GW students, she said.

“People drink when they are happy and people drink when they’re sad,” Chong said. “The economy is good and bad sometimes, but people keep drinking. So I think of it as a business.”

Chong said University students represented the majority of the previous owners’ customers, but that she’s received more customers working at the World Bank as they return to in-person work. She added that the 30-pack of Natural Light beer is the current most popular item among University patrons, likely because of its value.

Chong said she is eager to continue the legacy the Kimwons left behind, which has become apparent from the melancholy among the student body over the ownership change.

“I understand how sad you guys are, but everywhere you go, always come and go,” Chong said. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I didn’t ask them to leave. It’s their choice to retire. So for me, it was just a business opportunity so I took it.”

Despite her brief spell running the store so far, she said she has already met one customer who invited the Kimwons to his graduation, and another who met his girlfriend at the store — both of which indicate customers’ and the former owners’ “good relationship.”

“This store is a very memorable place,” Chong said.

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About the Contributor
Grace Chinowsky, Senior News Editor
Grace Chinowsky is a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication from Seattle, Washington. She leads the News section as The Hatchet's 2023-2024 senior news editor, and previously served as the assistant news editor for the Metro beat.
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