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Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

March 20, 2011

I read in a trade magazine recently that retail stores like K-Mart and Walgreen’s (as well as other discount/dollar store chains) are scrambling to get liquor licenses for their many branches in order to carry beer, given craft beer’s meteoric rise in popularity. Walgreen’s has gone so far as to release it’s own trademark beer called Big Flats 1901 (which has all of the quality that you’d expect for a $3 six-pack). The goal here is to capitalize on what is seen as a profitable trend, with the craft beer phenomenon boiled down to just another popular market ripe for exploitation. These companies are working hard to make “one-stop shopping” a reality, and there are plenty of reasons why that’s not a good thing.

The reason why craft beer is so popular today is simple; it’s a craft, with ordinary people doing extraordinary things with simple ingredients. It’s about inspiration and collaboration, and sharing a certain creative enthusiasm. When a craft is reduced to being just another faceless consumer product, the culture that goes along with it suffers. A “craft” brewery, by definition, is small, independent, and traditional. A craft brewery is defined as one that has an annual production of 6 million barrels or less, and one in which 25% or less of the brewery is controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not a craft brewer. From this definition, it becomes clear that craft brewers are purposely un-corporate, and they are able to focus on more than just how many units they sell.

Think of all that makes craft beer great. The way certain breweries come to define certain cities or regions, and the way that brewers rediscover old brewing styles and keep history alive. The way craft beer invites collaboration and camaraderie. The sincere effort on the part of most craft brewers to run their businesses sustainably and give back to their respective communities. All of these things are what define culture. Incidentally, all of these things are secondary when a company has its eyes solely on the bottom line.  Of course the goal for craft brewers is to make money selling their beers, so it can be easy to rationalize that making them more widely available by partnering with large chain stores can’t be a bad thing. However, the article I read admits that these efforts are not expected to increase overall sales of craft beer, they will merely take business away from liquor stores and other specialty places, thus beginning the gradual spiral that leads to the death of small business.

But why should we care that these corporate chain stores are finding ways to make more money? As long as someone is making money, that means progress, right? Take book stores for example. It was once common to go to a local bookstore and discover books on your own, with a staff that cared about which books they carried and were knowledgeable about them. Eventually most of these small businesses were choked out by huge retail book stores with wider selections that catered to popular and widely advertised books and fads. In short, there’s a reason why bookstores now have entire sections dedicated to books about teenage vampires (it’s related to the reason why these bookstores are now failing).

Writing this feels a bit like trying to tell off an oncoming tidal wave, but there is a point to all of it. Every dollar we spend is a vote. When we give in to these corporate retail stores and buy their slightly cheaper if lower-quality products, we are sending a message to those companies (and to the marketers that pay attention to them) that we support their business practices. We are saying that we would rather sacrifice integrity for convenience.  After all, why try that locally brewed craft beer when you can buy this generic, widely-advertised brand for a few cents less? Why shop at a liquor store and talk to someone who shares my interests when I can just buy beer at the same place I buy toilet paper and shampoo? Why leave my house at all?

Convenience is a slippery slope, because nothing of value comes easy, especially when it comes to a craft. There are people who say that art is dead. It’s not. They just don’t sell it at your local Walgreen’s.

It pays to get involved…comment on our blog for a chance to win an Andover Liquors Gift Certificate! In order to be considered in our contest, the “rules” are simple. Pick a post, leave us your thoughts and sign your first and last name. It’s that easy…and you could win a $50 gift card, too!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Catie Hubley permalink
    March 21, 2011 11:19 am

    When I think of a large retail store such as Walmart, the word convenient NEVER enters my mind! There is Nothing convenient about walking into a large overly bright store, being greeted by someone passing out smiley face stickers and handing me a carriage full of someones left over garbage. There is nothing convenient about being given the run around by a salesclerk that A. doesn’t know the location of items in the store, and B. has a hard time speaking my language. When I think of the word convenient, I think of the small and traditional store that is right around the corner from my house. I think of the knowledgeable staff that greet me (almost always) by name and inquire as to my well being that particular day. Convenience is asking a question of a particular product and being directed to the exact location of where the said product is. Convenience is knowing that if I want to try a knew product, someone will be there to let me know what I can expect.
    Yes, I would rather choose Death than purchase a “craft” beer at a Convenience Store like Walmart! Small local businesses ROCK!

    • March 21, 2011 12:45 pm

      Right on! These large retail stores aren’t doing anybody any favors, and I think people are starting to realize that. Thanks for commenting, and for supporting local business!

    • Dmitry Filonov permalink
      April 4, 2011 1:34 pm

      Well, I hear your point. But this is just one side of the story. On the other side are people like me, who do go shopping to get the right product, not to talk to the staff. And when I go shopping I do prefer wide selection of products from around the world rather than couple odd pieces made by two local manufacturers and that’s it. No, am not talking about just beer here. But even if we get back to the topic – I still prefer large stores with the widest possible selection of beer. Yes, I do like seeing local craft beers. But selection shouldn’t be limited to that. And I’ve seen enough of these small country stores where selection is limited to one or two local crafts (not to my taste) and bud light. Period. Visiting this kind of store, especially if you are not local to the community, but a visitor from another state, is really disappointing.
      Fortunately, Walmart won’t be any good at taking over beer lovers anyway. Even for people like me who do prefer large retail stores for it’s anonymity and convenience (yes, I see it more convenient than small country stores) Walmart will never have enough beer names on their list to be any attractive.

  2. Rich Brown permalink
    March 21, 2011 12:40 pm

    Large retail chain stores will do whatever it takes to increase traffic, usually at the expense of specialty stores – the ones we miss the most. Walmart is most famous for this, bringing cheaper goods through mass volume. And sure, for those people who shop at those stores, maybe buying a beer that appears like a high-end, crafted brew will be a perk. Not to be a snob (well, not on purpose anyway), but my guess is that people looking for a good selection of craft beers are less likely to shop at those stores. What might be necessary is a label that signifies the definition of a craft beer, one codified by the trade and government, much like “organic” is (or should be). In that way, Walgreens or whomever could not pretend that their trademark beer is anything but relabeled Bud. For the present though, I think shops that specialize in craft beers are safe from Walmartization.

    • March 21, 2011 7:02 pm

      Let’s hope so. There’s so much enthusiasm and creative energy involved with craft beer, it’d be a shame to see the profit game take the wind out of it’s sails. Thanks for commenting.

  3. April 4, 2011 1:34 pm

    I’m definitely not a Walmart shopper, and I can’t even imagine buying beer there. As a craft beer snob, I go out of my way to find places that have a superior selection and beer that I can’t find in other locations. Service is a part of that equation (and I’m glad to see that Andover Liquors has finally realized that beer buyers want some attention, too), and that shows in things like presentation, knowledge of the beers, protecting them from being lightstruck, keeping the stock fresh, etc.

    You can’t find anyone to help you in the big-box stores, let alone someone who is knowledgeable about particular products that they stock. The advantage to buying from a local store goes a lot further than convenience–it is product knowledge, but also it is nice to go to a place where they might even remember you, and know your preferences.

    • April 7, 2011 7:50 pm

      My thoughts exactely. Craft beer is about word of mouth and recognizing quality. Know that your craft beer snobbery is always welcome here, and I do my best to remember fellow beer lovers and their preferences. Cheers!

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