WEB EXCLUSIVE: “Alconomics”

Marcus Barkley

How area alcohol stores have reacted to competition, manager changes and a shaky economy

Fraternities Sigma Nu and Kappa Alpha Psi united to register students to vote yesterday. Nathan Rango (right), Sigma Nu candidate, said, “I registered to be an active young voter like every student should be.” Stephanie Dever | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

With the economy continuing to fall, one thing seems to remain at least partially stable – college kids and their need for booze.

But even though the need for cheap alcoholic stimulation will never die in a college town, businesses in the area have seen a flux and have had to make changes and maintain high service to keep business alive.

T.L.C Wine and Liquor – 1205 W. Main St.

Judging by management, T.L.C. is the new kid on the block.

“I was referred from another store because of the poor store management here,” co-manager Darby Norris of Akron said. “I worked at the Cleveland (T.L.C.) store to take this one over because it was being run into the ground by an idiot.”

Norris, who used to work in contrition before getting into the alcohol trade, said business at T.L.C. has been good, but difficult.

“It’s been good – we have definitely put in a lot of hours here,” Norris said. “I work like 60 to 70 hours a week.”

The new management at T.L.C. took control a little more than a year ago after the previous management floundered.

“When I took over, there were a lot of unhappy customers because of the way the (previous manager) was running the store – he was rude to a lot of people. So when people saw new faces here, people were definitely asking questions; that’s why I put up the ‘New Management’ sign and that brought back a lot of business.”

When it comes to the economy and its effects, Norris said the change has been smaller than in other businesses, but it is still very noticeable.

“(Business) has been hurt slightly because of gas prices – drinking is a luxury for most people,” Norris said. “We have noticed a difference because there aren’t as many people buying in bulk to stock their personal bars. Also, wedding orders aren’t as big because people can’t afford it because it is a luxury. So we have noticed a difference- I’d say at least a 10 percent drop in sales.”

Campus Wine Cellar – 1655 E. Main St.

Campus Wine Cellar, which was established in 1971 and turned into its current state in 1986, has the advantage of location when it comes to local alcohol outlets. Aside from the store’s position, the Wine Cellar makes sure it has its roots firmly entrenched in the university.

“We take care of the wine tastings through the university, so if the university holds any kind of wine event, it’s done through the Campus Wine Cellar,” manager Karen Maracz said. “We also advertise through local pizza places and in the Kent State basketball brochure.”

Maracz said the economy has affected the lives of everyone, and business has suffered as well.

“The economy all over has been declining,” Maracz said. “People don’t want to go out and spend the money as much.”

Though Maracz said the economy has caused difficulties, daily tastings and wines of the week have helped to ease the money crunch. Another thing that helps the Wine Cellar is being able to do something to combat slowing sales that other stores can’t provide.

“We are the only ones in town allowed to sell until 2:30 a.m. – everyone else has to stop selling at one because of the license we have,” Maracz said. “It definitely helps sales because if we’re the only one open past 1 am, if you want beer, you gotta go here.”

Riverside Wine and Import – 911 N. Mantua St.

When it comes to places to buy and enjoy a beverage on the harder side, the possibilities are nearly endless. What sets Riverside apart from the competition, says owner Robert Morson, is its dedication to environment and service.

“We have seating for 157 and it’s a smoke-free environment both inside and out,” Morson said. “We are also the only establishment in Kent that overlooks the Cuyahoga River, and we also have the beauty of having trains that go by. We’re open 7 days a week and we’re also the only establishment, on Sunday, that has wine sales at 10 a.m.”

Riverside was first a typical alcohol store when it opened in 1996, then was transformed into a store and bar in 2005. Morson said his establishment has more than 1,500 wines and 400 different beers, but does not have the same student support as some of the other area stores.

“Our business is not largely predicated on university students,” Morson said. “We do get lots of faculty and university professors.”

Though Riverside is not a top spot for college students looking for drinks, Morson said his business still manages to have a large following, mainly because of the store’s e-mail newsletter, which is the store’s chosen route for advertising.

“There’s no establishment like this is Kent,” Morson said. “People drive from Hudson, Stow, Tallmadge, and it’s because of what we have to offer – we have the best wine selection in Portage County and, arguably, Summit County as well.”

Even with the vast alcohol selection, multi-city customers and the combo of a bar and sales front, Morson said Riverside has not been immune to the faltering economy.

“I would say (the economy) has hurt us,” Morson said. “We’re slightly down compared to last year. I think the price of gasoline, what’s going on in the stock market the current war and the job market has slowed us down a little.”

Contact public affairs reporter Marcus Barkley at [email protected].