Boulder toasts big new retail liquor outlet
"Hazel's is a completely, radically different take on what a liquor store can be," said attorney Bruce Dierking, general manager and co-founder of the store. The 35,000-square-foot store offers 12,000 different items at its 1955 28th St. location, specializing in wines and craft beers. On opening day, Hazel's had 45 employees.
Hazel's ranks as one of the largest liquor stores in the state in terms of square footage, and the largest in Boulder County, slightly edging out Liquor Mart's 32,500 square feet in Boulder.
A group of largely local investors, Integrity Retail Partners LLC, teamed to start the business with Dierking at the helm of regular operations. Necessity brewed up the birth of Hazel's, Dierking said, after the previous tenant of the space went bottoms up.
"We weren't thinking of doing this until our client declared bankruptcy and dropped the building in our lap," Dierking said. He and local developer Jim Loftus owned the building for years, renting it to businesses such as Ultimate Electronics, which closed after filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011.
The duo considered searching for another pre-established business to fill the space.
"But with the national-chain sort of approach, there is really no loyalty to the community," Dierking said. "Going back to that same type of relationship wasn't very appealing."
Meanwhile, market research showed that liquor stores do well in such a "junior anchor" or "mid-box"-size space. Market research also showed customers wanted another large liquor store because they weren't finding the right combination of choices in their wine and beer shopping experience, Dierking said.
"Some shoppers wanted a different style shopping experience or price or different selection or some combination of all three," Dierking said. "We know sales were leaking out, and people were starting to drive to other places."
Hazel's offers a large selection in a central location. A brightly lit store with low shelving provides good visibility, coupled with a friendly aviator theme throughout the space, Dierking said. It also has a humidor and sells tobacco products.
The store comes equipped with digital price displays linked to the checkout computer systems, which Dierking said provides accuracy between the shelf price and what's charged at the counter. Hazel's owners think the new store will draw both locals and visitors.
Dierking said he wants shoppers to feel as though they're being invited into a friend's home when they walk through the door, rather than entering just another liquor store.
"We really strive with our customers to be friendly and welcoming.
"Everyone should feel like they are family or friends." The shopping experience, he added, should hearken back to local groceries where workers lugged purchases to customers' cars."
Hazel's owners made the store friendlier to the environment, too.
"We spent a big chunk of money upgrading this building," Dierking said. The store now sports a white, R-30 roof instead of the traditional black roof, providing a high insulating factor. High-tech skylights allow natural light in but are specially tinted to prevent heat transfer and damaging UV light from hitting store shelves.
"They are basically like an expensive pair of sunglasses for the store," Dierking said.
Liquor Mart's general manager Jack Stoakes doesn't anticipate the new competition will threaten his store's lengthy community history and fun shopping environment.
"Our customers are very comfortable with our size," Stoakes said, "and we're conveniently located a block away from the Farmer's Market and two-and-a-half blocks from Pearl Street, which people like."
Liquor Mart began in 1968 when Boulder lifted its "dry" status.
"It's my understanding we were the first liquor store to officially receive a liquor license," Stoakes said.
Liquor Mart supports numerous Boulder-area nonprofits each year, Stoakes said, with deals such as $1-per-bottle for specific wines sold to a designated organization. Such community giving is one of the things that keeps Liquor Mart customers loyal, he said.
Liquor Mart also does a brisk online business that allows customers to order via the web, then either pick up in the store, have their order delivered or shipped.
The 800-square-foot West End Wine Shop doesn't expect the new giant in town to stomp its wine business either, said owner Manuel Sanchez. West End draws mostly neighborhood customers and foot traffic from Pearl Street.
The Wine Merchant in North Boulder looks at Hazel's opening as a chance to shine at what it does best.
"It basically pushes all of us as purveyors of wine and spirits to do a great job of customer service and education," said owner Brett Zimmerman. His staff comes well-trained, often with some formal sommelier training, and operates with a "front-of-the-house" approach, he said.
"We love to identify people by name and what they had for dinner and talk about if they had family in town."
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