By Fred Minnick

Know Your Shopping Cart

The demise of the once great mom and pop store
I filled the tackle box, loaded the fishing poles in the car and was prepared to catch the biggest bass Kentucky had ever seen. I was half way to my fishing hole when I realised I had left my flask at home. When I fish, I smoke a cigar and sip on fine Bourbon. How could I set the State record without my secret weapon? 

I had to improvise. I pulled off the highway looking for a liquor store. Found one. Small, with a hotel behind it and a barbecue shop adjacent. I walked in, and its shelves were swollen with Bourbon. Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Evan Williams, Four Roses, Elijah Craig and all the other mainstays; plus rarities, such as Elijah Craig 18 Years Old and Old Rip Van Winkles.

Sadly, what happened to this mom-and-pop store is an unintended consequence of the Bourbon boom.

I don’t remember what I bought, but I left impressed with this mom-and-pop store. It felt like true Kentucky.
I returned this past weekend. Bourbon marketing tents were replaced with pickled eggs and lottery marketing flyers. The shelves that once held Old Rip Van Winkle were now packed with chips and candy bars. There was a refrigerator with water and Gatorades, and a small shelf with “Kentucky wines.” Now the bottles collecting dust were basic bottles, and they no longer carried most Bourbons. “Very Old Barton is our bestseller,” the owner told me, yet the Very Old Barton bottles had dust, an obvious sign they had been sitting awhile.

The store couldn’t even get Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond or the Heaven Hill 6 Years Old 90-proof expression with a green label that populates only Kentucky liquor stores. We bought a bottle and left, but the experience saddened me. The store was a beacon of Bourbon, where a random fisherman could find something tasty. Now, nobody comes here and the everyday Bourbons collect dust.

Sadly, what happened to this mom-and-pop store is an unintended consequence of the Bourbon boom.
In the past decade, Kentucky has seen the growth of the mega liquor store, where thousands of bottles of everything fill the shelves. Want a rare bottle of wine? They’ve got it. Need nocina liqueur? The store rep is likely to point you to the shelves of cordials, stocking several brands of a category of which the little guy has none. These business models are volume based with boatloads of variety, meaning their goal is to have and sell a lot, while the mom-and-pop consumers are margin-based and are more personal.

I left impressed with this mom-and-pop store. It felt like true Kentucky

One mega store sells Maker’s Mark for only eight cents over their cost. Fortunately, most states do not allow liquor stores to sell below their cost or they would. This creates a wide gap in pricing between mom-and-pop stores and mega stores. Even the most loyal mom-and-pop consumers will leave their longtime store for $10 to $30 savings per bottle.
The distributors, well, they’re sending product to the high-inventory stores. Since mom-and-pop stores lose their longtime customers, the distributors see no reason to restock their shelves.

Some stores outdo the big guys. Westport Whiskey & Wine has arguably the best private barrel selection program in the country, creating demand for its store picks. Larger stores, such as Liquor Barn, have excellent private picks, but this is competition, as nobody egregiously slashes prices in this category.
But that may soon change.

Amazon purchased Whole Foods earlier this year and they’re now making a play for alcohol. States have long road blocked Amazon for national sales of alcohol, but with Whole Foods stores, they are effectively in each state and can operate as the grocer had in the past. Amazon’s spin, of course, is they home deliver, a convenience that is hard to pass up. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can now add alcohol to your grocery cart for delivery. Why stand in line when Four Roses is delivered?

Amazon destroyed the bookstore and altered the course of retailing. They’re about to deal the fatal blow to our traditional liquor shopping industry.
The only thing in its way is you. Where you buy your bottle matters. Just ask a once great mom-and-pop store selling pickled eggs.