Commonwealth Journal

March 24, 2013

Brew-print for Success

Apple's Wine & Spirits to open Monday

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

It’s good to be the first.
On Monday morning, the owners of Apple’s Wine & Spirits expect to be the first to open a liquor store here in Somerset since the days of Prohibition eight decades ago. 
Though Wildcat Beer, Wine and Spirits were the first to receive their necessary license from the City of Somerset on Thursday, that store’s owner, Chris Daniels, doesn’t expect to open fully until late this coming week.
Wanda Johnson, owner of Apple’s, is eager to start business on Monday, however.
“We were anxious,” said Johnson, an employee of the Pulaski County School District. “We’d been working so hard to get (the store) ready and were anxious as to when to anticipate the start date. We were ready to go when we got the green light, so we decided to go ahead and open on Monday.”
On Friday, Somerset Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Administrator Nick Bradley told the Commonwealth Journal that he couldn’t say for sure when the other four stores that had been approved by the Kentucky ABC office to receive Retail Liquor Package licenses would be awarded the necessary permits by the city — it could be that day, it could be next week. That was in the evening, around 6 p.m.
It wasn’t long after that hour, however, that Johnson was notified by Bradley that the city was ready to issue Apple’s a liquor license, she said. 
Johnson expects the city to deliver it Monday morning. As soon as that happens, the store will be ready to sell its products.
In order to operate, a liquor store must receive licenses from both the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the city’s own ABC administrator. 
However, the City of Somerset has been locked in a conflict with the state regarding the number of licenses that Kentucky officials chose to allow the city. Retail Liquor Package licenses — essentially, those for liquor stores that sell wine and distilled spirits — are what’s known as “quota” licenses, meaning there’s a limited number of them available. (Stores that sell beer and malt beverage products only have been open in Somerset since September and are not considered “quota” license retailers.)
According to Kentucky law, the state ABC department gets to not only determine how many quota licenses a “wet” community receives, but which businesses should get them. As such, Kentucky ABC officials chose to give Somerset five such licenses, and chose applicants that Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler felt were smaller volume retailers than what he had envisioned for the city.
Since then, the city has launched an effort to convince the state to allow for more liquor store licenses in Somerset based on the overall market, with the idea that Somerset serves a much larger population than just those living within the city limits. Meetings with the state have been described as “positive” by Girdler, and the city expects to know more next week.
As part of Somerset’s stand for more licenses, however, they decided to delay giving four of the five applicants chosen by the state the city’s license — Apple’s, First Stop Party Supply, Rite Aid and Walgreens. Only Wildcat Beer, Wine and Spirits was seen by the city as being the kind of high-volume retailer they were focusing on to boost the local economy.
As progress is made with the state, however, the city is apparently ready to hand out the other licenses. Johnson said that Apple’s received its state license three weeks ago, and was just waiting on the final pieces to come into place.
“The city has worked the best they could with us to keep the lines of communication open,” said Johnson. “They had wanted work out some things with the (Kentucky) ABC, and we understand where they were coming from, and they understood where we were coming from.”
Despite the forced delay, Johnson feels like the relationship with city officials has been a positive one.
“Nick Bradley and the mayor did their best to try and make sure we could balance both sides,” she added. “We communicated with them, told them when we got our license (form the state) and when we got our inventory. So they worked really well with us.”
And even though Apple’s may not have the same kind of inventory of the big liquor stores in Richmond or Lexington, that may actually be an advantage, suggested Johnson.
“We’ll be able to get to know our customers, and handle any needs they’ve got,” said Johnson. “It’s just more personable.”
Apple’s is located in the Somerset Mall, with an outside entrance on the northeast end of the building. While there aren’t as many active businesses in that corridor of the mall as in past years, Johnson is hopeful that the store may be good for the facility as a whole.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get more foot traffic in the mall to help the stores close to us,” said Johnson. “This is a good location on the south end of town.”
Indeed, with the mall resting essentially on the border with Burnside, it’s the southernmost liquor store so far approved by the Kentucky ABC in Somerset, putting in prime position for certain corners of the regional market.
“We hope to get Burnside and any other adjoining counties, like Wayne County or McCreary County,” said Johnson, “and also maybe hit some lake (tourism) traffic as it comes in on the Ky. 914 bypass.”
Johnson said that the store features 1,500 square feet of retail shelf space and a “wide range of all products,” including wine, bourbons, vodka, gin, and other distilled spirits. It also carries beer and craft beer products, and features a special “wine cellar” room.
Johnson owns the store with partner Jordan Absher, who has a history in the construction industry locally. The store is named after Johnson’s significant other, Jeff Absher, who goes by the nickname “Apple” among those who know him well.
Absher said he decided to “jump in with both feet” when the opportunity came along to capitalize on Somerset’s “wet” status, voted in by citizens last June after having been “dry” — or unable to legally sell alcohol — since Prohibition ended in the United States in 1933. Pulaski County citizens opted to stay “dry” following that time and did so for decades.
In recent years, that’s changed slowly however, piece by piece. A couple of local wineries received the permission of voters in their respective precincts to sell their products, in 2003 and 2007 respectively. In 2004, the City of Burnside voted to allow drink sales in restaurants only, and reaffirmed that decision in a 2007 re-vote by a wider margin.
But only Somerset now has the capability to sell alcohol in stores — although until now, only malt beverages were available. On Monday — to the pleasure of local wine-lovers and Kentucky bourbon aficionados alike — that’s all about to change.
“This town’s needed this for years and years,” said Jordan Absher. “We all knew it but didn’t think it would happen though for a few more years. When it did, everybody was tickled to death. We’re just ready to turn it around.”