Published on: Tuesday, February 2, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

Beer and wine sales increase local choices

By Kevin Adler

Looking for something to do on a Thursday evening? Maybe it’s time to check out the Co-op’s weekly wine tastings.

Wine tastings at the Co-op? You read that right. In December, the TPSS Co-op, located at 201 Ethan Allen Ave., began to test a series of tastings after a fall rollout of its new beer and wine section.

The Co-op and PhotoPressArt have been the first two businesses in the city to take advantage of a change in city and state law to allow takeout beer and wine sales. They represent Takoma Park throwing off one of the last vestiges of its nonalcohol Adventist past.

These new options have been rapidly embraced. “People come in, and they pick up a bottle or two; they’re excited. Boomers, Millennials, they like having wine with dinner,” said Greg Czech, who runs the alcohol operation for the Co-op. “We’ve got a lot of really good wines at reasonable prices.”

For the 200 or more selections available at any given time, Czech focuses on wines for $20 or less, and he has scoured the “best of” lists and wine ratings guides. “I come from a family in the restaurant and liquor store business,” he said. “I like doing the research, and I try to find selections that might not be at other stores in the county.”

Reflecting his audience, Czech stocks organic wines, as well as wines made from sustainably grown grapes. For beer, Czech goes local and regional, taking advantage of a strong craft-brewing scene in the Metro DC area with choices from DC Brau, Heavy Seas (Baltimore) and Bold Rock Hard Cider (Nellysford, Va.). “Craft beers are very popular, and they’ve been a good business for us,” Czech said.

According to him sales have far exceeded expectations, and he’s had to put in unexpected hours to keep up with demand. “Some wines that I thought we’d sell two or three bottles in a week have been selling at two or three cases per week. We’ve had to build extra storage facilities. That’s a nice problem to have,” he said.

At PhotoPressArt, located at 914 EastWest Highway, owner John Kirakosian stocks well-known beers and modestly priced California wine labels, such as YellowTail, Coppola and Jacobs Creek.

“Beer is selling better – especially Heineken and Corona,” he said on a recent Friday night, while serving a steady flow of customers, who came in to stock up for the weekend.

For Kirakosian, it’s part of a strategy to offer something for everyone from his compact, bright storefront. Patrons can pick up a snack, LavAzza coffee, and now beer and wine, or use services, such as passport photos and printing.

“This shop has been here since 1982, and I bought it four years ago because it had a good reputation,” he said. “I ask people what they want, and then I try to get it. That’s what I do with my beers.”

Doing what people want is what got the City to this point, said former City Council Member Seth Grimes, who supported changing the alcohol law when he was in office. “The Co-op went all-in on this effort, and I’m glad it did,” Grimes said. “There are a lot of people who appreciate having a convenient place to get beer and wine.”

Passage of the law in 2014 was not a foregone conclusion. The City Council had considered changing Takoma Park’s alcohol rules in 2010, and a number of citizens testified against it.

Fast forward a few years, and a similar proposal passed the City Council with strong support and little opposition last January. The state legislature heeded the City’s request and changed state law so that Montgomery County alcohol licensing rules would apply in Takoma Park.

The January 2015 City Council resolution included support for Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer’s initiative to curtail the county’s alcoholdistribution monopoly. The Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) oversees distribution of all alcohol (beer, wine, hard liquor) and is the only allowed retailer of hard liquor.

Meanwhile, for the shopper seeking liquor to make the perfect martini or mojito, county-owned liquor stores are still the only choices. There’s one exception – TJ Beer Wine and Liquors, which is in Takoma Park, of course.

“TJ’s is the only privately owned liquor store in Montgomery County,” said Takoma Park City Manager Suzanne Ludlow. “It’s on New Hampshire Ave. and was in Prince George’s County, so it was grandfathered when the boundaries for Montgomery and Prince George’s were changed.”

“I think we were the first [body] to call for ending the monopoly,” said Grimes. “There’s resistance in the county because the monopoly is so lucrative, but we’re starting to see movement on it.”

For now, Czech and Kirakosian are learning how to work through DLC’s byzantine distribution system. It can be slow, but Czech said the Co-op is able to obtain almost anything that a customer requests and he’s “happy to do special orders.”

This article appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.