Only seconds into a visit to the newly opened Total Wine & More, in a former Office Max site on south Hulen Street, it becomes obvious that North Texas liquor sales are no longer defined by warehouse-like stores in the industrial parts of town.
From the moment customers enter the 30,000-square-foot location in the Hulen Fashion Center, they're swept into aisle after aisle of wines, more than 8,000 in all, displayed crisply and separated by country and variety.
Some 3,000 types of spirits are set in the back of the store and 2,500 beers are to the far left, next to a cigar humidor.
"Our stores are bright and beautiful," said David Trone, Total Wine's founder and president. "The stores will knock your socks off. The best selection, that's just good business. We are the price leader in every market. You've got to have the best prices all the time."
Total Wine, which opened last week, is one of several superstores descending on Tarrant County and set on shaking up the local packaged liquor scene. Houston-based Spec's Wine and Spirits has leased space in Fort Worth and Dallas-based Goody Goody has entered the market, with two stores in Fort Worth and one in Colleyville.
The new brand of liquor stores are bigger, often filling shopping center spaces vacated by big-box retailers, and merchandise is being presented in more unique and thoughtful ways, such as old-world displays at Goody Goody replete with a wine cellar.
The chains say they're stressing customer service and having the lowest prices as well. At Total Wine & More, bottles of wine range from $1.97 to $2,299 for a 2004 Petrus Pomerol from Bordeaux.
"What we pride ourselves on is having what the customer wants," said Bill Tice, Total Wine's district manager over the Fort Worth store. "If a customer doesn't see it in the store, just ask."
Steve Gray, leasing director with the Weitzman Group brokerage, said the availability of large retail spaces with low rents has made it easier for the chains to move in.
"The retailers are seeing opportunity," Gray said. "It's interesting because these guys are going after a higher-end consumer. The stores are different than liquor stores of the past. It's a welcome addition for landlords and consumers."
And despite the sluggish economy, alcohol sales have continued to grow.
Liquor sales by U.S. manufacturers increased 4 percent in 2011, to $19.9 billion, fueled by an increase in exports, an improved U.S. economy and product innovation, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. And at the retail level, U.S. wine sales in 2011 climbed to a record of 347 million cases, up 5.3 percent from 2010, the Wine Institute reported.
The newcomers are uprooting a local liquor market that has been consolidating.
Last year, Centennial Fine Wine & Spirits bought the Majestic Liquor chain in Fort Worth out of bankruptcy, which at that time boosted the number of stores it owned to 67. Greg Wonsmos, Centennial's president, did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.
Spec's Wine and Spirits plans three stores in the market, according to Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission filings. The company has leased a 55,800-square-foot former Tom Thumb location in the Cityview Centre shopping center at 4720 Bryant Irvin Road, where it will reportedly have a store and some wholesale business. It has also leased the former Marvin Electronics location nearby on Hulen Street. No opening dates have been announced and company executives did not return phone calls seeking comment on their plans.
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