Focus on locally made spirits helps Freeport market become Maine’s largest agency liquor store

Bow Street Market in Freeport had the most liquor sales in Maine last year.
Brendan Twist | The Forecaster
Bow Street Market in Freeport had the most liquor sales in Maine last year.
Posted Dec. 04, 2013, at 2:27 p.m.
Bow Street Market stocks a variety of locally produced wines and spirits.
Brendan Twist | The Forecaster
Bow Street Market stocks a variety of locally produced wines and spirits.

FREEPORT, Maine — On Cyber Monday, while holiday shoppers scoured the Internet in search of deals, Paula Truman, spirits director for Bow Street Market, stocked the shelves with locally made liquors with names like Cold River Vodka, Gunpowder Rye Whiskey and Blueshine, a new blueberry moonshine.

“You can’t get this stuff on Amazon.com,” market owner Adam Nappi said.

Bow Street Market, a fixture in Freeport since 1946, has used a thriving wholesale business and a focus on local and specialty products to make it the largest agency liquor store in the state.

According to figures released recently by the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, the store sold more than 60,000 liquor cases in 2012 and brought in more than $10.5 million.

Nappi declined to break down sales figures, but he said the store’s business is “fairly well divided between our retail and our wholesale consumer base.”

Bow Street got into the wholesale game after the state relinquished control of liquor sales and began closing its stores in the 1990s.

“We hopped right in with two feet, and then it turned into 10 feet,” Truman said. “And then instead of walking, we started running.”

The store began by selling and delivering to bars and restaurants in Freeport, Yarmouth and Portland, which remains its biggest market. Today, it stocks more than 1,600 liquor items and delivers to Kittery, Belfast, Orono and other towns across eight Maine counties.

The key to success has been building relationships, said Truman, who conducts training sessions for bar and restaurant employees, as well as Bow Street’s staff.

“In the spirits world, I can get you comfortable with what you’re selling,” she said. “So when the 72-year-old comes in or the 36-year-old comes in, you have an idea [of what they're looking for].”

Bow Street’s retail operation has also been crucial to its market dominance.

The goal is to make the store a “specialty destination” for spirits, Nappi said, a place where people will travel when they want a bottle to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, holiday or business deal.

Since moving into its current building in 2011, Bow Street has boasted the state’s largest public, climate-controlled wine cellar, Nappi said.

Over the past decade, the store has begun selling more specialty items, none more extravagant than the Louis XIII cognac from Remy Martin, which retails for $3,000 a bottle.

They don’t expect to sell more than a couple of those a year, Truman said, but stocking it adds to the feel of the store as a regional destination that carries just about anything.

As more local wineries and distilleries have followed the lead of craft breweries, their products have become a small but growing part of the marketplace.

Bow Street has a display for Cellar Door Winery, based in Lincolnville, and an aisle end cap dedicated to locally made liquors. Those features help to spotlight local products and are in keeping with the overall spirit of the store.

“It’s a theme that’s consistent throughout,” said Nappi, who grew up in the store and bought it from his parents in 2002. “It runs from our produce to Maine-grown, grass-fed beef. Our end caps have Maine jams and jellies.

“We move commodity items to the bottom shelf,” he said. “French’s mustard is at the bottom, and Raye’s mustard is at eye level. When you walk into Bow Street, we want it to radiate that we’re all about local.”

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