Monday, May 11, 2020

EXCLUSIVE: How the Coronavirus Affected Two Wine Shops in Massachusetts by Philip S. Kampe

Life in western Massachusetts has been tourist oriented for as many years as one can remember. With an abundant amount of ski slopes to choose from in the winter and the seasonal likes of Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow, The Clark Museum, The Mount, Mass MoCA, Berkshire Theater Festival, Hancock Shaker Village and a handful of year round spas, including Canyon Ranch and Miraval, there is little doubt that the area is hopping with locals, tourists and second home owners much of the year.

The second home owners comprise families from the New York City area (under three hours by car) and Boston (under two and a half hours). The demographics and deep pockets help keep Berkshire county alive.

My observation for this second home owner economic infusion started many years ago when my first business, The Candy People, opened in downtown Pittsfield in 1982. Jack Welch and Gene Shallot were among my weekly customers.

When I expanded and opened my second  ice cream shop, Fabulous Phil's, in 1989 at the ill fated Berkshire Mall, three quarters of sales on weekends were attributed to the second home owners. Add the buying power of the locals and transplants to the area and Berkshire county is sound, business wise.

At least, this is what it was like, pre-coronavirus.

What are these people doing during quarantine? Apparently, the second home owners have found their homes as havens and are working from home-in the Berkshires. Since these coronavirus transplants are here for awhile, maybe forever, their buying power has helped our community.

My interest is solely on how the local wine and spirit establishments are doing, sales wise. Are customers in the stores? Do they pick-up curbside or are their products delivered?

With no sales tax on wine and spirits, the customer is already ahead of the game.

Joe Nejaime is the proprietor of  two stores, named Nejaime's, one in downtown Lenox and the the other in the center of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. His brother, Jim Nejaime, owns Spirited, a shop in Lenox, on busy Route 7. These are the two shop owners I interviewed and these are their responses.

1) Is your store open for business the same hours as before the pandemic?
Jim from Spirited-Before 9am-9pm Monday through Saturday. Now: 9am-7pm Monday through Saturday.
Joe from Nejaime's-Hours changed to 9am to 6pm Monday through Saturday and 11am o 6pm Sunday. Normal hours, 9am to 9pm Monday to Saturday will gradually resume.

2) Do you do curbside pickup? If so, what percentage of your business is curbside?
Jim-Yes, we immediately began curbside pick-up. About 60% of our business is curbside.
Joe-Yes, curbside pick-up +/-20%

3) Since your shop is open, do you have more or less sales then a year ago at the same time from from February to now?
Jim-Yes, our sales are higher than comparable months.
Significantly increased during the lead up to and is continuing during the pandemic.

4) Have buying trends changed? If so, how?
Jim-Clients are much more trusting to allow us to select for them. They want higher quality products than before. And they are very explorative, and willing to try new, recommended products. They are also using, exploring and placing curbside, shipping and delivery orders through our website much more than before. Exponential growth in web sales.
Joe-Customers are often ordering in case quantities as well as large sizes. Quicker transactions and higher quality products.

5) Are brand names outselling specialized wines?
Jim-No, both are selling well.
Joe-Brands always have outpaced specialized wines. But, unique wines are still selling due toour customer service and the selections available through

6) Have beer sales increased? What are customers buying?
Jim-Beer sales have increased-primarily craft beers. Sales of spiked seltzers have increased similarly.
Joe-Beer sales are up. Craft beer sales are up and commercial brands like Bud and Coors are brisk.

7) Have spirit sales surged?
Jim-Yes, spirit sales have surged. People are buying higher quality spirits-primarily, Bourbon, Whiskeys, Scotch, Vodka and Gin. Many are buying Tequila and Mezcal also, as well as aperitifs and digestives.
Joe-Yes, top shelf is very active. Customers are very discerning.

8) You sell charcuterie. Have sales increased or decreased?
Jim-Our cheese, charcuterie and panini sales have all increased dramatically.
Joe-Our large selection of cheese and charcuterie and all of our specialty groceries are selling well. Fresh deliveries arrive weekly. 

9) Are you able to receive deliveries from your vendors, as easily as prior to the pandemic?
Jim-There are minor interruptions in product flow to us-but, for the most part, we are able to re-stock and get deliveries.
Joe-No interruption in deliveries by suppliers.

10) Do you have new customers? Or mostly the same from pre-pandemic?
Jim-We do have a very significant increase in new clients shopping with us, and they have been very appreciative about being able to be provided with our products to enjoy while they are quarantined.
Joe-Long standing patrons and new ones too.

11) Do you deliver wine? What percentage of customers prefer delivery?
Jim-We do deliver to every corner of Berkshire county. I'd estimate about 5% of clients aew utilizing our delivery service. More are using and enjoying Curbside service.
Joe-Yes, we deliver 10-15%, as an estimate.

12) Have you reduced or increased staff?
Jim-We have added staff, especially in the areas of answering call in orders and deliveries. We have some staff working from home, due to concern of exposure.
Joe-Same staffing levels.

My first take from the answers suggests that the wine and spirits world is as active as ever. Business is booming. Curbside pick-up has a new life. Hand selling wine via suggestions has reached a new high. With the cannabis shops closed during the pandemic, it should be obvious that the wine and spirit shops should emerge as the only legal choice for consumers.


B.G.L. said...

interesting article.

B.G.L. said...

Interesting article.

Unknown said...

Great article. In NYS outside NYC area is a little different picture and most sales are concentrated on main brands that consumers are familiar with. So small importers are doing less business while big distributors are doing much better. In general a lot of similarities with Massachusetts and most consumers are happy for stores being open.

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