Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Small liquor stores battle chains with top-shelf idea

Shops offer delivery to homes, businesses


Piero Barriga delivers groceries and liquor for Pink Dot in Los Angeles. Mr. Barriga has worked for the company for 13 years. Pink Dot employs 25 full-time and plans to expand to other cities.

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LOS ANGELES — Mary Michiels keeps a bucket of treats under the counter for people who come in with dogs. She greets customers by first name. A woman walks in the front door just to tell Ms. Michiels that she’s having a second baby.

Ms. Michiels owns Almor Wine & Spirits on Sunset Boulevard, a high-end liquor store that her parents opened in 1955. It was in the middle of the booming 1950s, the year that Disneyland opened in Anaheim. Long before the days of BevMo! and Costco, Ms. Michiels’ mother handwrote the store’s name and address on hundreds of cards and distributed them around the neighborhood.

Today, competition from big-box and discount stores is stiff, but Ms. Michiels brings something potent to the table: Instant gratification. Decades ago, Hollywood’s lavish parties created demand for businesses that quickly delivered alcohol. Now, this Hollywood relic is giving small liquor stores like Almor an edge in a market inundated with other ways to buy booze.

Although Southern California is dotted with stores that deliver alcohol to homes and businesses, the concentration is very high in and around Tinseltown. Within a 3-mile radius of the Hollywood & Highland Center shopping mall and entertainment complex are at least 10 stores that offer door-to-door alcohol delivery.

“Delivery is part of this area’s tradition,” said Danny Setareh, co-owner of Gil Turner’s Fine Wines & Spirits in West Hollywood, which has delivered for more than 50 years. “Everybody is happier with that, so why shouldn’t we do it?”

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, nearby Laurel Canyon became known as home to musicians including Jim Morrison and Joni Mitchell. The narrow, winding roads leading in and out of the canyon made delivery a vital service, said Kerry Gogan, a record producer who grew up in the neighborhood during that time.

“It was kind of a discreet way to take care of your business without people knowing your business,” said Mr. Gogan, whose family used alcohol delivery about once a week when she was a child.

Today, as corporate and franchise businesses in things as varied as auto parts and yardage stores beat out mom-and-pop operations, Hollywood liquor merchants are keeping their customers with their ability to satisfy immediate urges.

“When you’re shopping for liquor online, you want to get a drink,” said Michael Crumrine, who lives in Laurel Canyon and gets alcohol delivered from Almor and the Laurel Canyon Country Store.

California is one of 18 states where delivery of beer, wine, and liquor is allowed without restriction. Nine states prohibit such deliveries. Even in New York, known for bringing almost anything to your doorstep, delivery of alcohol is restricted by quantity, and the delivery truck must be clearly marked.

In the Hollywood area, stores such as Almor, Bogie’s Liquor, and Mel & Rose say they make about 30 deliveries a day.

The demand is so high, one liquor store has been transformed into a large-scale delivery service that employs 25 full-time employees. They drive a fleet of pink VW bugs making deliveries in 30 minutes. Although the company, Pink Dot, delivers prepared hot foods and groceries in addition to alcohol, owner Sol Yamini said its best sellers are liquor, cigarettes, and condoms.

Mr. Yamini said he plans to expand Pink Dot to downtown L.A., the San Fernando Valley, San Diego, and San Francisco over the next three years. Although he hopes all four locations will be successful, he said the West Hollywood spot probably will always be the busiest because of the culture. “You live in West Hollywood if you want to be in that Hollywood lifestyle — go to the bars the Kardashians go to, the guys from Entourage go to,” he said. “People that live in WeHo live in WeHo because they like to go out, and going out goes hand in hand with drinking.”

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