Modernizing ABC says counter-service stores are on their way out
Grabbing a bottle of Tito’s Vodka, Virginia’s favorite spirit, at Henrico County’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Store 331 means being greeted with tall, white Ionic columns surrounded by tastefully lit posters bearing words such as “cheers,” “gather” and “celebrate” – a stark contrast to Richmond’s ABC Store 251, where customers are greeted with aisles caged behind bulletproof Plexiglas.
However, Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority has plans to transition counter stores like 251 into self-service ones and revamp all stores across the state through a new modernization plan, according to ABC Chief Digital and Branding Officer Vida Williams.
“We try to be part of the positive economic growth of a community, not the negative,” Williams said. “That’s kind of what our mission is at this point.”
The last three remaining counter-service stores in the state, two of which are located in Richmond and one in Petersburg, opened in the early 1980s and are in predominantly Black neighborhoods, according to census data. Revamping the stores is a “priority” of the modernization efforts, Williams said.
Keeping inventory behind the counter means customers need to know what they want as soon as they go in, leaving little room to browse for and try new products, said Dyfferant, a musician and videographer who didn’t provide a last name and whose neighborhood store is 251.
The Plexiglas is “not justified, but that’s just how it has always been,” Dyfferant said. “It’s sad, but this is what people in these types of areas do, this is what we’re used to.”
Williams agreed customers may not have a positive experience with these stores, which is why she said the authority is now looking to make changes.
A select few stores like 331 serve as “sandboxes” for what modernized ABC outposts could look like, Williams said. The authority said it’s using market demand analysis, community feedback and data on store locations to determine what stores should look and feel like in the future, a process Williams said is more in the “trial and error” phase right now.
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