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‘Downsizing' the bar tab

Local alcohol vendors notice a difference in spending habits

Posted: March 27, 2009 1:52 a.m.
Updated: March 27, 2009 6:55 a.m.

Javier Macias delivers boxes of UV Vodka to Kwik Stop Liquor Store in Saugus Wednesday afternoon. Off-brand alcohol is becoming more popular as people look for ways to cut costs.

One bar regular said Thursday that since the economy took a nosedive, he's tended to drink just a little bit less.

He's trying to cut back on expenses, but not too much, said the Valencia man, a Thursday visitor to LB Mulligan's, where he goes four to five times a week.

A couple of local store owners couldn't say whether customer drinking habits have gone up or down in the recession, but one change is noticeable - more frugality when it comes to alcohol dollars.

"I think what people are doing is downsizing," said Roy Hannoun, owner of Kwik Stop Liquor in Saugus. "I don't think their habits have changed, but maybe their spending has changed."

Hannoun said customers are looking for deals, sales and cheaper brands more often. He no longer keeps $200 to $300 tequila bottles in stock - though those bottles were actually selling in pre-recession times.

"Even guys who are giving a gift will give a $20 dollar bottle of vodka instead of a $40 (bottle)," he said.

Although business is producing less dollars, Hannoun isn't worried.

"We're in a business where in good times, you're happy and you drink, and when people are not doing too well, they also drink," he said.

Kwik Stop customer Hal Stone of Valencia said he's noticed more people are either drinking at home or settling for the house beer instead of going for the "top shelf" when drinking out.

"People may be learning how to make their own cocktails or maybe going to Target, getting a blender and whipping up a batch of margaritas," said Stone, who said he isn't drinking any more or less because of the recession.

Valencia Liquor owner Jaeyoung Hahn said his business is off about 5 percent to 10 percent compared to last year.

"I think people are afraid to spend the money," he said. "Now people who used to spend $5 are spending $2 or $3."

At Vino 100, a wine retailer in Valencia, sales haven't been brisk but they've held their own, said co-owner Lil Lepore.

"People are more price-point conscious than before," said Lepore. "They're not out to spend as much unless for a very special occasion or special gift."

But the shift isn't too drastic, Lepore said.

"It's not like they're going out and buying Two Buck Chuck," she said. "Anything under $30 is really what's selling strongly."

Lepore said she and the co-owner try to keep a large selection of wines under $25.

One major reason general wine sales aren't diving is the social appeal of wine drinking, Lepore said.

"I think it's one of the few things you share with friends and family," she said. "It's different than having a vodka."

Wine can also be perceived as romantic, having health benefits, being a traditional gift, and "it conjures up a really warm, fuzzy feeling," she said.

"I think what people are looking for is comfort, warmth - they want to feel good," Lepore said.


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