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									small is
                        What small shops lack in size,

                                                                                                                              Clockwise: Central Bottle photos by Dawn Colquitt-Anderson / Perman by Lara Kastner / Siverlake by George Simian
                  they make up for in service and selectivity
                                                      By Brandy Rand

           mericans are known for super-sizing just about everything, from
           hamburgers to SUVs. We’ve come to associate bigger with
                                                                                         Silverlake Wine
                                                                                         Los angeLes, Ca
           better, and often make purchase decisions at stores that offer
           the widest selection at the lowest price. And when it comes to
 alcohol, large club, grocery and regional chains tend to dominate certain
 markets. Because they buy in bulk, these retailers often promote leading
 brands at discounted prices compared to a neighborhood wine and
 spirits store. Suppliers and distributors also focus more heavily on these
“A” stores, as it often makes the most business sense to do so. It is,
 after all, about volume, right? Not so fast…. >>>

    Just as consumers began trekking to      you know—little shops started springing
                                                                                         “Customer service, no snobbery, no
farmer’s markets to pay more for a just-     up across the country. Their goal? To get
                                                                                         pretense and everyone is welcome.
picked tomato, they also started searching   personal with customers and brands. And     We may own the store, but the
for craft beers, esoteric wines and local    to present wine based on style, context     people who come here are what
spirits. Emulating the shopping experi-      and taste profile—not ratings.              define it.”
ence at a European market—buy what you          “Everyone deserves a neighborhood        -Randy Clement
need, when you need it, from someone         place,” declares Randy Clement from
                                     Silver Lake Wine in Los Angeles. He and         fer a hand-picked selection of around 100
                                     his partners opened eight years ago in the      beers and 700 wines. “We carry products
                                     artsy, growing Silver Lake neighborhood         we can become intimate with and know
                                     and doubled the size of the store to 2,500      the winemakers,” she says. “Larger stores
                                     square feet after three years in business.      carry more recognizable brands and can
                                     Getting customers was about shaking             move volume this way, while we work
                                     hands and creating an environment that          with small vendors.”
                                     was the antithesis of a typical “big box”           And customers don’t seem to mind. In
                                     liquor store. “We hired interior designer       fact, those who frequent small shops build
                                     Ana Henton to create a cool space and           a rapport with the staff and happily try
                                     we are also cardboard free.” The aesthet-       recommendations based on their sugges-
                                     ics play an important role—warehouse            tions. As Craig Perman of Perman Wine
                                     versus cozy, creating an environment that       Selections in Chicago explains, there is
                                                                                                                                   Dry Dock Wine & Spirits
                                     most people prefer. Clement goes a step                                                       bRooKLYn, nY
                                                                                     no advantage in overstocking his shelves:
                                     further by promising you will never find       “Rather I taste, search and narrow down         “We have so much to thank for
                                     any brand sold at a chain store on his          the best of the best and give my customers     our success, the location of the
                                     shelves: “Everything we have is boutique        my opinions on the best selections avail-      store in a transitional (groovy!)
                                     and small production.”                          able.” He looks at this as a competitive       neighborhood with a large food
                                                                                     advantage, often having access to limit-       market just blocks away. But above
                                                                                     ed-quantity items, or “hidden gems” that       all, it’s about the people we hire
                                      Central Bottle                                                                                who are passionate about putting
                                      Wine & Provisions                              aren’t available to mass-market chains.
                                                                                                                                    the right bottle in the right hands
                                      CaMbRidge, Ma
                                                                                                                                    every time.”
                                                                                                                                    -Mary dudine Kyle
                                                                                                                                    with co-owner Ron Kyle
                                                                                     Perman Wine Selections
                                                                                     ChiCago, iL

                                                                                                                                       At the 800-square-foot Dry Dock
                                                                                      “Ultimately I think it all boils down to
                                                                                      my personal relationships with my           Wine and Spirits in Brooklyn, the loyal
                                                                                      customers. When you are a wine               Red Hook neighborhood clientele shops a
                                                                                      consumer you try and find someone           “meticulously curated” selection. Co-own-
                                                                                      you can trust, someone who knows             er Mary Dudine Kyle tries to meet her
                                                                                      what you like, and you build on the          customers’ needs as much as she can. “We
                                       “The shop is blossoming in to
                                                                                      relationship.”                               have established ourselves as a destina-
                                       something that is really customer-
                                       centric. I feel like a host when we            -Craig Perman                                tion shop for spirits and unique offerings
                                       open our doors and we have a                                                                of small production wines at great prices.”
                                       party every day! Our staff speaks                                                           Like the other small stores, she empha-
                                       multiple languages and offers                                                               sizes the need for spectacular service, cit-
                                       choices to our customers. We are                                                            ing the lack of individual attention and
                                       all like family and friends.”                                                               highly trained staff at larger stores. “We
                                       -Maureen Rubino                                                                             work hard at making your visit fun and
                                       with business partner Liz Vilardi                                                           memorable,” she says, citing weekly tast-
                                                                                                                                   ing events and a personal account service
                                                                                                                                   that tracks customers’ purchase to allow
                                     retail gets intimate
Perman photography by Lara Kastner

                                                                                                                                   staff to establish a taste profile and easily
                                     With limited space, a common key to                                                           suggest items to suit their tastes.
                                     success across these stores is their ability
                                     to eschew big brands and focus on bur-
                                     geoning producers, both global and local.                                                    service sells
                                     Maureen Rubino from Central Bottle                                                           With intimate space, hand-selected SKUs
                                     Wine & Provisions in Cambridge, MA,                                                          and knowledgeable staff, service plays a
                                     works only with small distributors to of-                                                    critical role in repeat business. Stores offer

                                              A constant flow of information is vital,
 Little’s Wine & Spirits                       agrees Clement of Silverlake Wine, who        Bauer Wine & Spirits
 denVeR, Co                                    has over 30,000 newsletter subscribers:       bosTon, Ma
                                              “We are interwoven with our community
                                               in all that we do.”
                                                   Central Bottle is an integral part of
                                               their Kenmore Square neighborhood in
                                               Cambridge, MA, with an eclectic mix of
                                               MIT students, Google executives and res-
                                               idents. When they opened in 2009, they
                                               were cautiously optimistic their concept
                                               of a Venetian enoteca would be accepted.
                                              “We wanted to be a meeting spot where
                                               people could hang out, buy wine, have a
                                               snack and hang out,” says partner Mau-
                                               reen Rubino. With a special liquor license
                                               to serve wine by the glass once a week,
                                               she says business is thriving.                 “It’s hard work but we are successful
                                                                                              because we keep prices as low as
                                                                                              we can, we hire the right people for
  “We taste every bottle that walks
                                                                                              the job and we have a passion for
  through this shop. We can describe
                                               Cellar XV Wine Market                          what we do. If you don’t have pas-
  it personally to each and every
                                               RidgefieLd, CT                                 sion for your job in this business, it
  customer. We are able to bring very
                                                                                              shows and people lose trust in you.”
  eclectic varietals and producers
  because it is a ‘hand-sell’ store.”           “We work very hard, have good                 -howard Rubin with Randall grahm
                                                employees and a loyal customer                of bonny doon Vineyard
  -ashley hausman
                                                base. Plus we try to give the best
                                                value we can to the customers at the
                                                lowest prices in order to compete
tastings and support community events as        with the ‘big box’ stores, chains and            For small brewers, distillers and
an important opportunity to build rela-         the Internet.”                              wineries, these stores are sometimes
tionships with customers. Little’s Wine         -doug Thompson                              the only marketing vehicle available to
& Spirits in Denver also offers in-depth                                                    sell their products. At the same time,
educational workshops and partners with                                                     this aspect of discovery is what makes
local restaurants for dinner events. Ridge-                                                 a small store appealing to consumers
field, Connecticut’s Cellar XV Wine                                                         looking to broaden their palate. It’s a
Market provides free gift-wrapping, while                                                   win-wine situation, as the chaotic, un-
Bauer Wine and Spirits in Boston goes                                                       wieldy universe of wines and spirits is
the extra mile (literally) with free deliv-                                                 reframed on a manageable scale, with-
ery and hassle-free shipping in-state.                                                      out losing diversity or compromising
     Bauer even has veteran bartend-                                                        quality. “We know what our beer, wine
ers on staff who work with caterers and                                                     and spirits taste like—period,” points
corporations looking for advice on food                                                     out Rubin, making the daunting task of
pairings and choosing the right mix for                                                     helping customer choose what to drink
parties. General Manager Howie Rubin                                                        just that much easier.
sees communication as a factor in keeping                                                        The lesson for suppliers and distribu-
customers coming back. Besides weekly                                                       tors here: Don’t overlook the little guys,
email blasts promoting things like a Sam-                                                   especially if you have a unique product
pler Case (12 wines chosen by staff at a                                                    with a story to tell. For these small stores,
15% discount), Bauer maintains a weekly                                                     it’s not about discounts or advertising; it’s
blog with events, pictures and wine picks,                                                  about providing the customer with some-
as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts.                                                   thing special. n

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