The Perimeter’s influx of apartment-dwelling, craft-beer-loving millennials is driving a boom in beer, wine and spirits stores, local retailers say.
Business is good enough that owners are willing to sell stores in other markets to come here, due to a state law limiting one spirits retailer from operating more than two stores. And that two-store limit has been repeatedly challenged in the state legislature as major chains seek to expand.
“The population growth in Sandy Springs has been double-digit the last four years,” said Bobby Yun, who last month opened the new Citi Wine & Spirits on Roswell Road. And younger customers are a big part of that demographic boom.
“All the millennials are definitely into craft beers,” Yun said.
At Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits on Piedmont Road, which has operated in Buckhead since 1948, General Manager David Halliday said the market is similar.
“One reason the store is doing as well as it is, is the apartments coming in,” Halliday said.
“The millennials are huge about craft [alcohol],” he said, adding that “there doesn’t seem to be a concern about pricing.”
The boom would be bigger if it wasn’t for that two-store restriction, which can also change the nature of the stores that do come in. The national alcohol-retailer chain Total Wine came to the Brookhaven Plaza shopping center last year. But, like another Total Wine in Dunwoody’s Perimeter Square shopping center, it doesn’t sell spirits because of two other outlets that opened earlier in other Georgia cities.
Tower also operates a Doraville location. Until about 25 years ago, it had an interest in even more stores until agreeing to sell them off when the state said they were too closely tied to the Buckhead headquarters’ ownership. Yun’s family ended up owning two of them, including what is now another Citi Wine & Spirits in Atlanta and a College Park store the family recently sold, a move that freed them up to open the Sandy Springs location.
The law makes for some complicated store ownership histories, but helps protect independent businesses, said Yun and Ed McGill, executive director of the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association.
“It actually helps the smaller independents out so the big chains can’t dominate the market,” Yun said of the two-store limit.
McGill said the law is largely intended to reduce crime and corruption by keeping retailers small-scale and accountable. But he doesn’t mind its restrictions on national retailers like Walmart getting into the spirits business.
“Big boxes put small independents out of business, and prices go up and the customer gets screwed,” McGill said. “We feel [the ownership limit is] very good for not only the industry but also the people of Georgia.”
Nonetheless, bills to increase the store ownership cap have come in four of the last five Gold Dome sessions, he said.
At Tower, Halliday said he thinks the cap-raising is inevitable and that his store might take advantage. “I don’t think there’s much doubt that’s going to happen,” he said. “We could be prepared, if it comes to pass, to open more stores.”
But for retailers in the heavily regulated alcohol industry, store ownership caps are just one of many uncertainties and challenges that come with every legislative session, not to mention local laws. In a common example, Citi Wine & Spirits constructed its own Sandy Springs building because some other available locations didn’t match restrictions on selling alcohol close to churches or other institutions, Yun said.
“God knows what’s going to happen,” Halliday said of the upcoming state legislative session’s possible impact on alcohol laws. “There’s no mirror to look in to say, ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what’s happening?’”
Halliday has seen a lot of changes in his 50 years in the business, but he says it still comes down to some simple retailing principles.
“It’s not the number of stores. It’s location,” he said, as well as the financial strength to keep a store well-stocked.
Tower owner Michael Greenbaum added that a knowledgeable and helpful staff is important, especially in an upscale market like Buckhead.
“The wine factor in this area is a big factor,” he said. “If you don’t have good people, [customers will] walk out the door.”
A final challenge: Keeping up with trends and fads those customers prefer, which comes back to the craft boom and the millennial demographics. Halliday said the craft beer market looks to be getting “saturated,” and Yun noting big beer-makers are buying up the small craft brewers. But craft spirits may be next on the horizon, especially with many now being distilled locally, such as the J.R. Revelry bourbon from Sandy Springs’ Rick Tapia.
“[Millennials] like making gin cocktails with stuff they never heard of,” Yun said. “I think you’re going to see a big boom in the [craft] spirit business.”