Liquor store change marks end of 30 years of business at Ninth and Iowa

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Happy Hour Liquor & Tobacco has opened at Ninth and Iowa in the space that formerly housed Alvin's Wine & Spirits.

Usually a story that involves 30 years of liquor ends with the doctor telling you to sell your liver to Vlasic — it’s pickled. But this isn’t that type of story. Rather, one of the longest running liquor salesman in Lawrence is making a change.

Joe Schmidtberger has closed his Alvin’s Wine & Spirits store at Ninth and Iowa streets, and sold the location to another operator. The change marks the end of 30 years of Schmidtberger operating a business at the corner of Ninth and Iowa streets.

“I think the folks who bought it maybe just wanted it more than I did,” Schmidtberger said of his decision to sell. “And I thought it was time to cut back and maybe just work 40 hours a week.”

The other location for Alvin’s Wine & Spirits, located at Sixth and Monterey Way next to Hy-Vee, will remain open. Schmidtberger’s son and his family primarily run that business, but Schmidtberger said he’ll remain active at that store.

Area businessman Dipika Patel has bought the location at Ninth and Iowa streets — it is next to the Community Mercantile — and renamed it Happy Hour Liquor & Tobacco, a manager at that store said.

Schmidtberger once owned the Community Mercantile building. He operated an IGA grocery store out of it from 1989 to 2000, when he sold it to The Merc. But he kept the liquor store that he also operated at the property, until selling recently.

Schmidtberger is getting out of the business at an interesting time for the liquor store industry. A change in state law now allows grocery stores to sell beer up to 6% alcohol by volume. Previously, only liquor stores could sell beer that strong. The new law is the biggest change to hit the largely mom-and-pop liquor store industry in decades.

“It will impact a lot of liquor stores,” Schmidtberger said. “We are all going to take a little bit of a loss in terms of beer sales. There is no denying that.”

But Schmitberger said the industry can survive the change. It just needs to look for new items to sell and new ways to market. He said his remaining Alvin’s store has started stocking wine openers, mixing supplies and even a few gift items oriented towards liquor. The items have done better than he’s expected. He’s also begun focusing even more on wine sales, offering discounts to people who buy a half-case or more at a time.

“Right now, that has increased my wine sales more than my beer sales have dropped off,” Schmitberger said. “So, I’m happy.”

But he also said it is a bit too early to know what the new trends will be in the liquor industry. Right now, he said grocery stores seem to be largely targeting just one segment of the beer market — women who already are shopping at their stores.

Schmitberger said the male and female market for beer is quite a bit different. For one, women are more likely to buy a six or 12-pack to take home, while men are more likely to buy a lot more. Grocery stores may not go after that market aggressively, thinking that a 30-pack of beer may take up too much cart space or be too much of a hassle for many of their shoppers to load into the mini-van. But liquor stores would be happy to make a living off of that customer.

It will be interesting to watch how the liquor market continues to change. Count Schmitberger among those who think the recent change in liquor laws is just the beginning. He thinks grocery stores ultimately will be allowed to sell wine.

“That is going to happen, and probably sooner than we think” he said. “If you own a liquor store you had better get prepared for it.”


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