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Grausam said Edina hired an ad agency to craft a rebranding, conducted surveys and remodeled a York Avenue store. Edina’s stores are pouring $1 million a year into the city, he said, for projects at the golf course, parks department, ice arena and pool. “Our residents need to know that’s what they’re supporting by shopping here,” he said.
Grausam is confident that Edina’s three liquor stores can survive supersized competitors. The stores saw sales dip temporarily after Liquor Boy in St. Louis Park and Trader Joe’s Wine Shop on France Avenue opened in the past year, but their revenues are up 4 percent year to date, Grausam said, adding, “We’re not weak or financially strapped.”
Richfield just remodeled its store at Lyndale and 65th. Liquor operations director Bill Fillmore said his stores will do their best to price-match competitors as long as the price isn’t under their cost.
Fillmore worries about the competition but thinks that many customers are sentimental about buying at municipal liquor stores. “People say that if they pay a little more, that’s fine,” he said. “The profits make money for the city parks, ice arena, ball fields and pools.”
The No. 1 reason for shopping at a conventional liquor store, according to Neilsen, is a convenient location. Other reasons, such as better assortment, a knowledgeable staff and ease of shopping, are much lower down on the list, said Danny Brager, senior vice president of beverage alcohol practice at Nielsen.
At Wine Thief in St. Paul, Paul Wentzel, co-owner with his wife, Katrina, said nearly all the wines are under $20. The Wentzels deliberately stock wines from smaller wineries that aren’t sold everywhere, and they know most of their customers by name.
“Some of our customers just hand us a box and say ‘fill it up’ because they know that we know what they like,” Paul Wentzel said. While Wine Thief isn’t a muni store that supports city projects, Katrina Wentzel said Mac-Groveland customers are serious about supporting local businesses. “People here understand what a small business does for their community.”
Trone thinks the market is big enough for both superstores and smaller stores that are clean, priced attractively and known for good customer service. “If you’re price gouging or not taking time to know your customer,” he said, “you don’t deserve to be in this business.”
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633