Most Influential

Most Influential, Business: Marques Warren


By Chris S. Nishiwaki February 20, 2024

Marques Warren

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Marques Warren has pivoted in business so regularly, “I almost broke a hip,” he jokingly says. Warren started working at his family’s Sea-Tac Airport-based retail shop as a 12-year-old. A manager would pick him up at 5 a.m. on weekends and take him to work, where he would stock shelves.

Now, at 41, Warren runs a group of second-generation businesses that includes managing 20 stores at Sea-Tac, two wine and liquor retailers, a wine distribution business, a private lending institution, and a charitable foundation. Altogether, his companies employ more than 300 people.

In the last year and a half, Warren bought the iconic Esquin Wine & Spirits in Seattle’s Sodo District and moved the eponymous Downtown Wine & Spirits closer to the downtown retail core. They are the two largest family owned wine stores in the Northwest. In 2022, both stores combined sold in excess of $10 million.

“Over the years, I tried to pivot toward wine because it is more profitable,” Warren says. “The wine consumer is not as brand loyal as the spirits consumer, and they are more conscious about food pairings. There is more of an opportunity to introduce new products.”

Downtown Wine & Spirits was one of the first businesses to offer delivery after the state privatized liquor sales in 2012. A fleet of four vans and two cars, a dozen drivers, and the rise of Uber and Door Dash have driven growth.

When the pandemic limited shoppers’ ability to venture out, Downtown Wine & Spirits shifted its model and began delivering alcohol, a move that has since become the biggest driver of sales. When the landlords of the original Downtown Wine & Spirits sold the building in 2021, Warren was forced to move. In addition, Warren said theft at the store exceeded $1 million in the 10 years it was at its South Lake Union location. The store is now in the Tower Building near Pacific Place.

The new location gave Warren an opportunity to adopt Amazon’s ”Just Walk Out” technology, the shopping solution that charges registered consumers for their purchases virtually, bypassing a cash register and just walking out the door. Downtown Wine & Spirits became the first liquor store in the country to use the technology.

The solution-minded Warren also founded Cougar Mountain Financial, a lender specializing in loans to women and minority-owned businesses at airports. So far, he has financed restaurants at a food court at Los Angeles International Airport, and several retailers at San Francisco International Airport. In addition, he’s creating an education foundation to fund scholarships for Black wine professionals seeking training and certification by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.

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