Saturday, September 25, 2010

Comparison of the new "prototype" Wines & Spirits store to others....

With all the media hype, I had to go and check out the new prototype PLCB Wines & Spirits store in downtown Harrisburg- 333 Market Street to be specific. This is the second prototype store that the PLCB has opened, the other being New Hope, PA. To learn more about what the PLCB has to say about the store and a description of what it supposedly has to offer, check out this link:


Now, I am going to review this in a different manner. Instead of giving goods and bads, I am going to compare and contrast it against the Manheim, PA store and Lancaster/Fruitville Pike store. The Fruitville Pike store is a "Premium Collection Store" while the Manheim store is just your average small town store. So here it goes:

---Harrisburg- Terrible parking situation, even on a Saturday. It's on a good part of Market Street with other nice restaurants and businesses surrounding it. I felt safe there.
---Manheim- Excellent parking and location. It's in a small strip plaza that contains a hardware store, grocery store, and other smaller businesses. Well lit for those evening runs to the liquor store.
---Fruitville Pk.- Again, in a strip plaza, albeit busier and more cramped. Easy access from most locations north of Lancaster City. A traffic light at the entrance to Fruitville Pike. Can get a bit busy and cramped for parking in the evenings and on weekends.

-Interior Store Layout/Appearance:
---Harrisburg- Very nice, convenient, open in the center, nicer looking shelving. Good easy to read markings of locations of your favorite beverages. Comparable to a higher-end liquor store in Maryland or Delaware. Laid out well, but may become a bit cramped during busy hours.
---Manheim- When you walk in, you know you're in a "state store." What can I say? Little signage, cheap metal shelves, basic checkout facilities. No decor. But hey, it's Manheim, not a big city!
---Fruitville Pk.- A step above Manheim. More registers and a premium wines collection area that's mildly posh for Lancaster. Laid out pretty basically, but it works well and still allows for navigation of the store during busy hours. Still, not much for atmosphere.

---Harrisburg- Friendly crowd for a Saturday and for being in inner-city Harrisburg. I didn't get any "May I help you?" but I think they could tell I was on a mission! I did get a "Thank you." and smile at the check out, which was nice. All employees were well dressed and manicured.
---Manheim- Some employees seem nice, others seem like they'd rather be doing other things. Most have a basic knowledge and know what's in stock and what's not. Casual, but nice clothing is usually worn. Fine for a small town store.
---Fruitville Pk.- Employees often seems a bit overworked or stressed. Most are pleasant and seem to know about wines. Some employees look like they are dressed for a wedding. Nice sport coats and ties. Impressive and makes them look smart (I don't know if they actually are, but giving that impression makes me feel a little more comfortable when I ask questions). Usually pleasant at the register as well. Again, no complaints.

---Harrisburg- Severely lacking on whiskies (whiskys). Like all Wines & Spirits stores, there is a massive wall of Vodka, then the rest of the store is wine. I was expecting a lot more and really feel let down here. I was even hoping a few SLO "Special Liquor Order" items may be lurking on the shelves. Since I'm not a wine guy, I didn't pay much attention to the rows of wine, but it seemed to be the same selection as the Fruitville Pike store. One thing I did like was they had a list of all of the behind-the-counter small bottles at the register. That's nice since I'm always straining my neck to see what's lurking under the counter at other stores.
---Manheim- They have the basics. A few of each category of everything. It serves its purpose well and I know I can always go and find my Old Grand Dad 100 there!
---Fruitville Pike- This one beats the other 2 stores in square footage, so why shouldn't there be an excellent selection? It's also, as said above, a "Premium Collection Store" which means better selection of at least wines. This is one of my favorite stores (The other one being the East York store). Very good selection and at Christmas they are usually loaded with the special gift sets. While once again the emphasis is on wine and Vodka, good bottles of scotch, gin, bourbon, and other liquors crowd the shelves. Wonderful selection! Almost as good as a private Maryland or Delaware liquor store. Almost.

So there you have it. Hopefully the prototype concept gets refined and turns into something wonderful. For now, I'll stick with my local stores. The atmosphere may be spartan, but they have a good selection and they're a lot closer.


  1. Interesting comparison, thanks for writing it up.

    As I understand it the product selection at the prototype stores was "frozen" some time ago so that the consultants would be able to develop several different potential designs for the store/product layout without having to worry too much about ongoing inventory changes. Improving the selection wasn't part of the store redesign process, it was about improving other parts of the customer experience. The prototype stores will catch up over time.

    For the improved spirit selection coming in next month you'll have to look to the Fruitville Pike store.

  2. Nathan, I've got to be honest, I'm not a fan of the PLCB system at all. But if they are going to increase selections and making the shopping experience/atmosphere more likable, I'm ALL for it! I really like your website and I hope the PLCB takes some notes off of it. Your weekly catalog updates are awesome and that alone has made my trips to the "state stores" more convenient. It seems the PLCB is taking some baby steps in the right direction in some manners. I hope it continues. The price hikes coming in January don't make me very happy though. It will take them out of competition (glitzy stores or not) with surrounding states. Hopefully everything evens out!

  3. Thank you for the kind words! Yes there have been some changes at the PLCB lately and I think things will continue to improve, especially on the spirits side. As for the American whiskey selection, Sam K and I have had some input on that and soon there will be some additional items from both small and large producers.

  4. Awesome. I'd love to see some items come off the SLO list and on to shelves. I'd also like to see the state pick up a few other labels (Like Old Heaven Hill BIB (gold label), Cabin Still, Johnny Drum,and a few others). One question that has always been burning in my mind about the "state stores" is why on earth they need to stock so much vodka! I understand the wine since there is eleventy billion different wines, but vodka? What's the deal?

  5. Vodkas make up a third of the in-store spirits selection because a third of unit sales are vodka. Makes sense in a dry, bureaucratic sort of way, but the PLCB is trying to break out of that with the new specialty spirits stores.

    I'll send you an email on the whiskey stuff.

  6. I just got through your email and it looks good! I'll of course keep it under wraps until the new stuff shows up next month. I'll send you a list also!