Best Kept Secret in Boston Wine Value Eyes Expansion into Waltham

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Most people who shop at the BJ's Warehouse locations in Danvers and Stoneham, MA probably don't realize the liquor stores within these locations aren't run by BJ's.  At first glance they look like a typical liquor area within a warehouse club, but to wine value hunters like myself these stores represent one of the best kept secrets in the Boston area.

The stores are owned and operated by Boston-based RWJ Beverage Management in a model similar to what KH&H Liquors has done at Costco locations.  Two unique laws cause warehouse clubs to operate this way:

  1. In Massachusetts any single entity can only own 3 liquor licenses.  That's why some Whole Foods and Trader Joe's locations don't sell wine in the state.
    Here's a list of the grocery stores in the state that do sell wine.
    This creates a situation where warehouse clubs have locations where they can't sell alcohol and instead allow a third party to operate within their locations so shoppers can buy alcoholic beverages.
  2. It's illegal for an alcoholic beverage retailer to require a membership.  Therefore, one need not have a membership to Costco or BJ's in order to purchase alcoholic beverages.  This applies whether the store is managed by the warehouse club or not - a membership is never required.
Most stores that operate within this model carry a very similar assortment and pricing to what the warehouse clubs offer.  However, these RWJ Beverage stores do not and that's a good thing.  They carry a unique assortment of wines that comprise some absolutely unbelievable values.  To me, they do to wine what Costco does with everything they sell: They apply an editorial sort on what they carry and offer products that deliver a good value to the customer within each category.  They do an exceptional job serving a wide range of consumers, hitting a variety of price points.

Sure they have Kendall Jackson Chardonnay at $9.99 but they also have the 2007 Cakebread Cabernet at $59.99.  They've got the Annabella Pinot Noir at $11.99 and they've also got the 2007 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cab Franc for $39.99.  And the 2005 Robert Foley Merlot for $24.99.  And the 2006 Nicolas Potel Volnay for $24.99.  These are, for my interests, unbelievable values.

It's not just a matter of dishing out cheap wine.  They host in-store wine tastings, they fulfill special orders, they support local charities and they're friends of the local wine community.  They're anything but a seedy discount liquor store.

So why am I writing to tell you about these stores today?  Well, to raise awareness of the value they offer in general but also to let you know they're seeking to open another location within the BJ's Wholesale in Waltham, MA. 

Last year they acquired the license from the now-defunct Winecellar of Silene contingent on being permitted to transfer it by the City of Waltham.  Their first request was denied, perhaps as part of an overall anti-big box sentiment associated with BJ's.  The BJ's in Waltham is open now, without a liquor store, so I hope the city will permit this high-value retailer to set up shop.

There's going to be a hearing Tuesday night January 25th, 2011 in Waltham.  Especially if you're a Waltham resident and like wine values close to home this is a hearing you may be interested in attending.  Although I don't live in Waltham I'm thinking about swinging by to show my support.  It really bugs me to see high quality retailers like this denied the opportunity to serve consumers.

If you have any questions about the store or the hearing contact Mike Reardon at 617-412-2858 or on Twitter: @WineCellarsMA

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