Willing to cut BevMo! a bit of slack on its opening weekend as the liquor superstore irons out operational wrinkles, San Roque residents and business owners were nevertheless miffed Friday at the high volume of cars and delivery trucks making their way to the chain’s new location on upper State Street.
Referencing a nonstop line of vehicles cruising down the alleyway (which skirts the back of State Street-facing business and provides access to their back lots, including BevMo!’s), the absence of any available parking spots nearby, and the inconvenience of loading trucks completely blocking the way, people are worried that the hubbub isn’t just buzz for the promo-filled weekend but instead may foreshadow issues to come.
Store officials, though, were emphatic that once the weekend craziness dies down, its associated issues will evaporate. Valet parking will be offered at the location throughout the weekend to help with parking organization and flow, they said.
Doctor David Dawson of San Roque Pet Hospital, which is located directly next door to BevMo!, said that a number of his clients have complained about having to park so far away. As he spoke with The Independent, a woman with a dog in tow burst into the clinic’s waiting room and apologized for being late; she had to park a few blocks down the road, she said.
Choosing his words carefully, Dawson – who’s thinking about hiring his own valet service – said he’s all for increased commerce for the area, but is concerned about what that means for folks who work and live close by. He said he’ll give BevMo! a couple of weeks to work things out before filing a complaint. As far as he knows, he said, the company didn’t do any outreach to nearby business about what opening weekend would look like.
Sam, the owner and operator of San Roque Market & Liquors further down the block, said motorists constantly using the alley to get to BevMo! is “very annoying.” He’s not worried though about losing business, saying he’s got a base of loyal local customers as well as a better selection of liquor. His beer is cold, he went on, while most of BevMo!’s isn’t, and he explained his prices are just as competitive.
Sam said he’ll do what he needs to do to retain the regulars, and doesn’t see what the big deal is about BevMo! “Man, it’s alcohol,” he said. Getting a call from a customer in the middle of his interview, Sam’s place in the hearts of San Roque residents seemed secure: “Fuck BevMo!,” the customer said as Sam laughed.
Walking down the block, this Independent reporter was stopped by a woman who noticed the BevMo! press packet under my arm. Slightly aggressive at first because she assumed I was a company representative, she went on to explain how she’s been forced more than once to wait for 5-10 minutes while driving down the alley – which is often used by neighbors as a shortcut – because of a delivery truck blocking the way. “They’re not being very neighborly,” she said.
Inside the store was the expected hustle and bustle of any such highly-hyped grand opening. Dozens of people reportedly lined up before the doors were thrown open at 8:30 a.m., and BevMo! representative Sandra Lei said the place had seen at least 500 customers by noon. The first 250 were met with a “blow out doorbuster event” which allowed them to qualify for free gift cards. An employee was stationed outside all day, signing people up for membership cards and pushing an offer that lets members purchase a second bottle of wine for $0.05 after buying the first at regular price.
As green-shirted employees milled about, smiling at and approaching every new customer in sight, carts were loaded with liquors from all over the world as well as accessories like glasses, toothpicks, napkins, snacks, and so on. “Everything you need to throw a good party,” said Lei. With aisle after aisle stacked with 4,000 different kinds of wines, 1,000 craft brews, 2,000 varieties of spirits, and hundreds of different meats, cheeses, and sodas, (not to mention a selection of cigars and caviar), the “Big Kid’s Candy Store” also features a tasting area where customers pay $0.25 to sample whatever alcohol is featured that day.
The quarter fee buys you as many samples as you want, explained one vendor, and people are carded before they can enter the small area. A couple of people on Friday – who the vendor called “extremely dedicated and loyal customers” – were clearly taking advantage of the offer, teetering next to one of the booths as they threw back sample after sample.
Those leaving the store seemed pleased with the offerings and service, saying they definitely saved money on their purchases and remarking on the convenience of simply having so many different kinds of beverages – both exotic and local – to choose from.
Bay Area-based BevMo! had to fight hard to open its 104th store, successfully fending off opposition from Santa Barbara residents and environmentalists who said the last thing the San Roque neighborhood needed was another booze shop, especially one likely to increase noise pollution and traffic flow in an already busy area. Peabody Elementary School officials argued similarly, saying the superstore was simply too close to campus.
In their swan song of opposition, an ad hoc committee of San Roque residents and business owners – calling themselves Breathe Easy Santa Barbara – hired prolific environmental attorney Marc Chytilo to file an appeal with the city council. He asked the council members to kill the project outright and argued, amongst other things, that motorists on their way to and from BevMo! would seriously diminish the level of service at nearby intersections and would hamper city efforts to make the nearby streets more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.
While City Hall sympathized with the complaints, it couldn’t’ find enough reason to say no after the store’s plans went through an extensive review process: The company took an existing building and reused it, actually knocking down nearly one-third of the structure to make room for more parking spaces. According to traffic engineers, BevMo! is providing more parking than its employees and its customers will need. Reps also reportedly took pains not to ask that any rules be bent in seeking approval.
Addressing the fair amount of controversy surrounding the liquor superstore’s opening, Lei said she was surprised that any opposition existed at all. Most other cities, she explained, welcome a BevMo! with open arms. And while there was a vocal contingent who did make the road to installing a Santa Barbara store a little bumpy, Lei said the area’s majority won in the end. “People have shown that they want us here,” she said. “And we’re happy to provide them with a wide selection of different products at low prices.”