When Premier Wine & Spirits left its longtime Kenmore location on Delaware Avenue for new digs on Maple Road in Amherst last year, merchants and residents worried what effect the landmark retailer’s departure might have on the neighborhood.
But competing liquor store owners saw opportunity.
Husband-and-wife team Dan Locche and Brenda Alesii, former Kenmore residents themselves, quietly opened Straight Up Wines & Liquors at 2534 Elmwood Ave. in December, despite having no real professional background in the business. Premier’s neighborhood customers would be looking for a place to shop nearby, and the pair figured there would be enough of them to sustain a new liquor store.
“We thought, ‘What the heck, we’ll take a shot,’ and it has worked out wonderfully,” Locche said.
They hadn’t expected to see a profit for up to two years, but the store is already turning a profit, just three months after its soft opening.
The store’s 3,200 square feet is just a fraction of the cavernous former Premier location, but it fills the needs of local consumers.
“We’ve seen continuous growth since December,” Locche said. “Even our slowest times are steady.”
Not only has Straight Up capitalized on the customers Premier left behind, it has gotten more mileage with its advertising. The store’s tag line is, “There’s still a great liquor store in Kenmore.”
Shortly after Premier announced its move, Mark Butler of Butler’s Sheridan Plaza Liquors on Sheridan Drive seized the opportunity to expand. He spent $250,000 and doubled the size of his store.
Even Wayne Riggs, owner of Great Arrow Wine and Liquor on Delaware Avenue in North Buffalo, said he has absorbed some former Premier customers and has seen an increase in business.
“The biggest thing I’ve heard is, ‘I’m not driving all the way to the Boulevard Mall,’ ” Riggs said.
But local stores’ gains are not necessarily Premier’s losses.
“We’ve had double-digit growth,” said Burt Notarius, Premier’s owner.
Customer database records show that, while about 14,000 shoppers did not follow Premier to its new location, about 40,000 new ones have come from elsewhere, according to Notarius. The new location serves three times as many customers as the store in Kenmore, he said.
“Western New York is a regional market and the people who live here take advantage of the whole region,” he said. “Not many people are shopping and doing things in just one area. That’s the way retail is going.”
While he said he understands why people might want to shop only in their immediate neighborhood, there “just weren’t enough” of them to justify keeping Premier in a location the company had outgrown.
It made more sense for the store to be near retail hot spots that draw large amounts of shoppers. Premier Center is directly across from Boulevard Mall, very close to Boulevard Consumer Square, and also draws students who attend the University at Buffalo down the street.
Its proximity to popular retail districts has brought an influx of Canadian customers as well. Canadians can bring up to 40 ounces of wine or spirits back over the border tax free, and often buy bottles to enjoy in their hotel rooms during overnight shopping trips to the area.
It may not have been a zero sum game for local liquor store owners. But Bob Bolt, president of the Kenmore Merchants Association, says that doesn’t mean Kenmore is a bottomless opportunity for wine and spirit stores.
“People won’t drive from Eggertsville and Amherst and North Tonawanda like they did for Premier, but to fill the needs of Kenmore, I think a couple of places will do OK.”