By Michael Jacobs

Sandy Springs Crossing has lost The Sports Authority, Cici’s Pizza and others. Drawing traffic into the shopping center at Abernathy and Roswell roads now falls largely on the shoulders of Chris Hinton.

That’s OK; the ex-NFL offensive lineman has broad shoulders. At 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, he’s known as “Georgia’s largest retailer.”

He opened Hinton’s Savvy Cellars in September as a destination for wine aficionados, as well as people just looking for something tasty, whether wine, beer or hard liquor. His store joins Total Wine & More near Perimeter Mall in helping fill the void created by the closure of Jax after two decades on Roswell Road.

Hinton’s Savvy Cellars is his second shop, joining Hinton’s Wine Store in Alpharetta, the hometown he adopted after football. The 47-year-old Chicago native and father of three developed his love of this area during three years with the Falcons. “One winter was all it took,” he said.

His love of wine came from a trip to Napa Valley, Calif., during his 13-year NFL career with the Colts, Falcons and Vikings.

It might be surprising that a player good enough to be drafted fourth overall in 1983, to be traded for Hall of Famer John Elway and to make seven Pro Bowls would be a wine connoisseur, but the Northwestern University grad defies any dumb-jock stereotypes.

He lights up when he talks about wine, so it was natural for him to develop his hobby into a business in 1999. Now he dreams of opening many wine stores and nearby wine bars, like his Bin 75 in Alpharetta.

In addition to U.S. wineries, Hinton visits Europe and South America to learn each wine’s story, part of the pleasure of drinking wine. “For me, it’s important to retell the story.”

The trips also develop his relationships with bottlers and distributors, and those connections pay off for his customers.

When distributors are trying to finish off their stock of a particular wine, Hinton said, they know they can turn to him. Instead of five or 10 cases, he might buy 50 cases, then pass along savings of 15 percent to 25 percent to customers. (He has an e-mail list of 8,000.)

You won’t find all of the same items in Alpharetta that you’ll see in Sandy Springs because it’s illegal to transfer stock between the stores. But you will see Hinton at both sites.

The new location suited Hinton’s desire to connect with customers in East Cobb and Buckhead as well as Sandy Springs, and the store vacancies don’t concern him because he wants Hinton’s Savvy Cellar to be its own draw. “We’re trying to create a destination.”