BevMo is not the enemy
In San Francisco they’re having another turf war over whether to let a chain store open in one of the city’s neighborhoods. People out here in the Bay Area hate chain stores on the theory that they drive mom and pop indies out of business. I personally think you have to look at each case individually. You can’t just say “No to all chain stores” or “Yes to all chain stores.” Well, here’s a case where I think the “No on chain stores” side is seriously misguided.
It concerns Beverages, & More! (BevMo), a big box liquor outlet with scores of branches throughout California and Arizona. (Disclosure: A few years ago, BevMo was Wine Enthusiast’s Retailer of the Year, and BevMo’s cellarmaster, Wilfred Wong, is an old and good friend. But that’s not why I’m defending BevMo in this instance.)
There’s this blog, Booze Reviews, which over the weekend had a post called “Why you shouldn’t shop at Bevmo”. My problem with the post is that their reasons for opposing BevMo are illogical and/or just plain wrong. First of all is the argument that BevMo “sets out to crush” small liquor stores “in an effort to drive the small, locally-owned businesses out.” The author contends that “If there’s something you want that the corporate HQ [at BevMo] hasn’t approved,” you’re out of luck; BevMo handles just “popular booze makers [and] a ton of crap and some mass-produced good stuff. But they’re not going to stock the small, boutique wineries and breweries that are really at the cutting edge.”
It may be true that you won’t find many smaller producers at BevMo. But — and please, memorize this, because there’s a quiz afterward — low production does not equal high quality!! Trust me on this one, folks. Besides, if people really were looking for these “boutique wineries,” they’d support the small indie shops that stock them. If the indies are going out of business, it’s because they’re not delivering what their local customers want.
One example the writer at Booze Reviews picked was Gary Farrell. As we all know, Gary sold the winery to Allied Domecq (it’s now owned by Ascentia) years ago. But the Booze Reviews writer didn’t know that, which is why he wrote: “I was also recently impressed when I found a bottle of Gary Farrell Russian River Pinot available at Bevmo online. Until I found out that the Gary Farrell winery was recently bought out by some huge conglomerate.” The writer automatically made the assumption that Gary Farrell wines had suffered in quality merely because the brand was acquired by a big company. But I have news from him: I’ve reviewed Gary Farrell wines forever, and they’re better than they’ve ever been! The vineyard sources haven’t changed, and winemaker Susan Reed, who was mentored by the great Zelma Long, worked at Matanzas Creek, and was trained by Gary Farrell himself, would probably quit if her bosses forced her to compromise quality. So it’s a form of reverse snobbery to say a big company must ipso facto produce inferior wines.
As a final argument against BevMo, the writer says it’s better to spend your money “in a locally owned business” instead of a chain store. There may be some validity to this argument, but not much. For one thing, obviously, if BevMo opens in my neighborhood (and we do have one), it’s still a local store, even if it’s not owned by locals. It provides jobs and benefits to local people. I have no way of knowing if the register clerk at the little wine shop on the corner makes more or less money that the register clerk at BevMo, or has better or worse benefits. But if BevMo were truly a horrible place to work, people wouldn’t be lining up to get jobs there. And BevMo stocks some darned good wines at just about the best prices in town. So it’s not just about employees, it’s about all the local consumers who are looking for decent prices these days.
Let’s cut BevMo some slack!
And now, that quiz. Does low production equal high quality? Write down your answer on a $30 bill and send it to me care of Steve Heimoff, in Oakland.
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