How a Capitol Hill liquor store owner transformed his business


Update: There is a nice discussion about the proliferation of stores selling booze on Prince of Petworth in Bloomingdale. Lots of dumb comments but some intelligent ones too. It’s good to have a forum to talk about these issues.

In thinking a little more deeply about how Hill East and its litany of corner stores will weather the increasing value of its neighboring housing stock, I recall how a classy liquor store in the southern section of Capitol Hill told me how his store changed with what was once a gritty neighborhood.

His shop, which now stocks mainly premium beers, wines and liquor, appears from the outside to have much in common with S.E. Market or D.C. Express Market. It has an old sign and generic lottery and booze advertisements fronting it and, honestly, appears to be a relic of the past. Except inside, fatcats are dropping $1000 on the good stuff and sipping pricey wine at frequent tastings. How did he do it?

The owner, who is maybe 40 years old, told me his store had been in his family for dozens of years. And when it eventually came under his control, he saw the writing on the wall and realized his neighborhood was changing. Rather than sell and have someone else gain from gentrification, he conceptualized what a Capitol Hill liquor store needed to do to survive.

After taking over his family’s operation and working six days a week, which he described to me as an exhausting lifestyle, he made his move.

“I stopped opening in the morning. There would be guys lined up outside the store when I opened,” he said, realizing that by opening in the morning (in D.C., stores can open as early as 9 a.m.,) he was catering to a waning crowd of early-morning drinkers, small potatoes when he could be targeting high-level congressional staffers, and even politicians themselves. “I stopped selling singles.”

The result: Years later, his store is open for just seven to eight hours a day and he is making more money than ever. If, besides the trendy PBR, you want to buy anything worse than Budweiser, you are looking in the wrong store. His store’s transformation shows that it is possible for stores to stay put and adapt to changing neighborhood needs. But, as I learned from our conversation, it wasn’t easy. But most importantly, at least we know that it can be done.

Note: Even though I love his store, I don’t want to out the store or owner because he made these off-the cuff- comments to me just in a shooting-the-breeze conversation many months ago. Wouldn’t be fair.

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