Friday, July 23, 2010
New State Run Liquor Store in New Hope Looks Like a Hit
By Charlie Sahner
It's probably too early to tell, but last week's opening of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's new Fine Wine & Good Spirits store at the Logan Square shopping complex in New Hope already shows signs of being a hit with consumers.
A visit to the new wine and liquor shop revealed a well rounded selection of products, competitive prices and a steady stream of excited customers. Said one departing customer with a large paper bag (the store tries to be environmentally responsible), "Great selection, well laid out, and easy to find what you want."
Commenting on the new location, PLCB Chairman Patrick J. "PJ" Stapleton said, "We are thrilled with the New Hope Store and we hope consumers are as well. It is a prototype store which means we will take the feedback from consumers to find out what works and what doesn't work and to see if there are things we can do better. Our rebranding effort is a work in progress."
A focal point of the new store is a center table, where consumers can find staff to answer questions, provide tasting selections, and ring them up quickly. The atmosphere is more Barnes & Noble than the typically dark and claustrophobic spirit shops one encounters.
The wine offerings seemed to represent many of today's most popular bottles, with a naturally heavy emphasis on domestics from California, Pennsylvania and other states. France and Italy were given equal weight with countries like Chile and Australia, which again reflects current consumer tastes, but also means the variety of Bordeaux, Cotes du Rhone, Barolo and other more traditional favorites was somewhat limited. All in all, the wines were fairly priced and well displayed, with numerous highlighted specials.
The liquor selection was impressive, dominated by a huge offering of various vodka brands. Surprising was the relatively large choice of cordials, rums and bourbons, including some hard to find bottles. Among these were the incomparable Booker's Bourbon on sale for $41.99, and Ron Zacapa 23-year-old, arguably the world's smoothest rum, for $44.99. Even the Bacardi 8 was a good buy; at $19.99 it was $7.00 less than I last paid in New Jersey.
Competition from New Jersey liquor vendors minutes away is a serious challenge, for sure. Pennsylvania's relatively archaic laws mandating that liquor and wine be sold in state stores and beer largely at discount outlets, restaurants and bars have put the state at a disadvantage in the past. But alcohol taxes have been rising in the Garden State of late, and the PLCB seems determined to compete effectively.
Says Stapleton, "Our selection and pricing is very competitive with New Jersey. We believe our store in New Hope will be a destination and people from both Pennsylvania and New Jersey will shop in it."
A movement afoot in the Pennsylvania Legislature to privatize alcohol distribution also adds urgency to the PLCB's effort to become a more consumer-focused retail business.
"The public-policy decision regarding government's appropriate role in the sale of wine and spirits in PA is a matter for our elected public-policy makers -- the Legislature and the Governor to decide," commented Stapleton. "Our job at the PLCB is to spend our time, energy and resources creating the very best consumer experience we can. We are focused on that effort every day and think Pennsylvanians will continue to be pleased with the changes we've made," he added.
So far, those changes appear well-received. The new store is "very pleasant," said Glenn Ricci of New Hope. "Everybody is very cordial and helpful, the place looks great, and everything's nicely displayed so it's easy to choose."
Another exiting customer, a tall, distinguished gentleman wearing sunglasses, a Panama hat, and a beatific smile, when asked what he thought of the store responded simply, "Lovely. Just lovely."