Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wine World & Spirits to Offer Astounding Selection of Local and Hard to Find Spirits on June 1st

If you are one of the many people in the Seattle area whose commute includes the section of I-5 that passes under 45th street, then you've seen the “Wine World” sign countless times Since late 2010. And unless you haven't been paying attention, it recently changed to “Wine World and Spirits”.

When it changed, I took a quick look at their website, and was delighted to find that they are positioning themselves to be the regional leader in selection, and ARE dedicated to selling all the local spirits.

I contacted the owner, David LeClaire, for more information, and he was incredibly quick to respond. We quickly set up a time to meet for a few moments at the beginning of one of his busy days.

David LeClaire has over 20 years experience in the restaurant industry and hosted wine events. He and a small team of local investors created Wine World last year, and have been hard at work. When they first opened it looked like a warehouse, with racks and racks of wine, and little else.
When I went in for the interview recently, it was completely transformed. I found glassware and books, an extensive beer selection, artisan cheeses, a huge tasting bar, and an entire event hosting area. This area has been used for events, chamber of commerce meetings, and (most importantly!) the Washington Distiller's Guild meeting.

And, there is still plenty of room reserved for liquor sales.

David has brought on two new specialists to help find some of the best spirits available. One of which, John Slagle, was responsible for most of the buying at the University Village Liquor store. His hard work there has given it the reputation for being one of the top four stores in the region for best selection. John is also very approachable, and shares my passion for tracking down a good find.

I talked to David, and he shared his thoughts with me about how he sees the new landscape of liquor sales in our near future.

David says, “What people voted for was to get more access to spirits at cheaper prices. What they actually are going to get is more outlets but a really reduced selection. Anyone who wants a good selection is really going to have to go far now. “

“Grocery stores have to essentially remove one product to add another. They are cutting about 1/3 of their wine out to add spirits.

“I think the thing to look at is if they are only going to have 100 – 150 brands, then how much room does that leave for local spirits?”

According to David, Bevmo is planning to move in, but not until well after June 1st. They will have a decent selection, but they will be making a lot of their money from selling their own generic house brands which have a higher profit margin than other liquors.

As you may know, Washington State auctioned off exceptions to the 10,000 square foot rule. The auction winners can either negotiate a new lease with the building owners and open up in the same location, or find a place within a one mile radius of the original location. David speculates that many of the auction winners will be opening up mini-mart style establishments. This concerns him because it may set a precedent, and eventually all mini-marts will be allowed to sell spirits. This is not what we voted for.

This concerns me, because in addition to the shoddy record that mini-marts have for age compliance, it would mean that selection will be even smaller than when the state ran the same stores, because the shelves will be filled with other items besides liquor.


David is positioning Wine World and Spirits to be the locally owned solution for people who are looking for a single place to find all of their beer, wine and liquor, especially locally made liquors.

They currently have 23,000 square feet, and are going to be stocking a shocking 2000 unique liquor items.

For a whisky lover such as myself, this means over 250 Scotches to choose from, and pretty much every single locally distilled product in the state of Washington that is currently being sold!

I noticed that being a locally owned store was featured prominently throughout the store. I asked him if his messaging was in response to people thinking he was part of a big chain. He said it was, and something that he didn't want people to associate with Wine World & Spirits.

“First of all, the name Wine World sounds like we're a bit of a chain. Secondly, the size of it, the sheer scale of what we are doing, makes people assume we must be a big company. Really, everybody here lives locally, and all of us are a lot of small investors. Nobody's put in a ton of money, and it has been interesting to pull something off on this scale, especially through a bad economy.”


When I asked if selection through out the state would increase, David gave a wonderfully detailed response:

“The amount of things coming from out of state is going to open up, but we are also going to lose things. The state acted as a direct importer of some obscure things. Let's say one bar really wanted this one spirit, the state would bring in that one case of spirits just for them and nobody else would do that. So a distributor wouldn't want to pick that up because there is not enough volume for them to deal with it.”

“So some of the stuff the state direct imported is going to go away. What is going to happen is some of the stuff the state never bothered with is going to come in, and so it's going to be a switch where some stuff will go and some stuff will come back in.”

“But as far as Washington spirits; I mean one of the problems is that I mean there was almost zero WA spirits in the stores before, and a lot of them really weren't ready to sell anyway. Everyone who already has a distributor we've already ordered from, those who don't we'll buy from directly. To answer the question, almost 80% of what we'll carry was never available before in a liquor store (in Washington).”

This brings me to their commitment to local businesses:
“It's a combination of everything. Part of it is a philosophy to be a part of the community that you live in and to support each other. It's also smart business because you can help each other, kind of fight off the chains. For example, that wall over there is our event venue partners. (He points to a wall with a list of event venues that allow you to bring your own wine.) Vendors, bartenders, limo companies, and people we like working with. So, we're promoting them, they are promoting us. We don't have big marketing budgets, so the easiest way to market yourself in the community that you're in is to do co-promotion, everybody wins. It sounds good on paper, but a lot of people never do it.”

So, if you haven't been to Wine World and Spirits before, I suggest you make a special trip on June 1st. By supporting them, you will help keep a channel for our locally distilled spirits open. And, this is one cottage industry that can use our help in these turbulent times in Washington.

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