Tuesday, July 21, 2009

B.J.'s Wine Store: Positive Changes

At its best, a blog is a discussion between the writer and the readers. That is why a Comments section exists, so that I can hear feedback from my readers and hopefully engage in a dialogue about the issues and items I raise here. It can then becoming a sharing of knowledge and ideas, leading to a better understanding for all.

Last month, I raised some criticisms of a new liquor store within the Stoneham B.J.'s Wholesale Club. In short, I did not think it was a good destination for wine lovers but was instead a place to go to save some money on ordinary wines and liquors. Although my thoughts were generally valid at the time, I lacked the entire story.

Mike Reardon of RWJ Beverage (which owns and operates the liquor store) was quick to comment on my original post and offered to speak to me about the store. This impressed me, that he was willing to discuss these issues with me, to respond to my criticisms. We first spoke on the telephone and then I met him at the store and we spent a couple hours touring the store and talking about matters. Mike showed passion and a sincere desire to turn the store into a better destination for wine lovers.

What is most important is that the store is a work in progress. Mike had only a short time to put the store into operation, so he could not make it exactly as he wanted from the start. But, he is implementing changes, trying to get a more diverse selection of wines and liquors, yet still catering to the usual clientele. Some of the changes will be slow, but progress should always be forward. Plus, Mike is very keen to the desires of his customers, keeping notes of wines and liquors people suggest that he carry. I made some suggestions to him as well and he certainly sounded sincere in considering them.

Though their selection of hard liquors is limited, they do listen to their customers and may start stocking something they are missing if there is sufficient interest. They also endeavor to carry certain seasonal beers and liquors so their selection will change on a constant basis. One thing I liked is that the store tries to carry some non-alcoholic drinks which are used to make cocktails, and they stock them next to the associated liquor. For example, they carry Goslings Rum and next to it is ginger beer, which is used to make the popular Dark & Stormy cocktail.

They carry around 175 different wines, and their selection is ever changing. They are making a slow change to carry more different wines, from more varied countries and wine regions. And they are trying to limit some of the more commercial wines. For example, they only carry two Yellow Tail wines, the Chardonnay and Shiraz, and only one White Zinfandel, the Beringer. Currently, about 90% of their wines cost $20 or less. But they are adding more higher-end wines too.

Behind their counter, they are now starting to stock some wines costing $30+, higher-end wines but at a good discount. They have a single page list for these wines but eventually, when they have more wines, they will place the listing in a captain's book for your perusal.

If you don't see what you want, you can suggest they start stocking the wine. Or you can special order it with them. If they can obtain the wine, they will order it for you, and you will get the wine at a good discount. That is a nice benefit.

The store has free wine tastings on Thursday from 4pm-6pm, Friday from 3pm-4pm, Saturday from 1pm-3pm & 3pm-5pm, and Sunday from 1pm-3pm. A number of the tastings will be held by knowledgeable wine distributors and there are plans to have tastings with wine makers too. That makes such tastings more appealing to wine lovers. Plus, I have often touted the benefits of wine tastings, especially to expand your horizons, to try wines you might not usually consider to buy.

The store employees must take wine education classes so that they can better serve the customers. So, as time passes, their employees should become more and more helpful to customers.

Overall, Mike's plans for the store seem on the right track and geared to make the store more of a wine lover's destination. I believe Mike is conducive to suggestions and recommendations. So, I will change my prior comments and now give this new store a conditional recommendation. It appears moving in the right direction and you should check it out. If you don't see something you like, either special order it or recommend it to an employee.

I will be watching this store over time, to see if the changes do come to fruition. I believe they will as Mike appeared honest, sincere and passionate. And I will be sure to report again on the store's status in the future.

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