For nearly two decades, Jim O’Brien has worked as the manager of the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet in Walpole — a position that has evolved into something of a legacy in town “When I got here 20 years ago, some of the people coming in were my old paper route customers from the 1970s,” O’Brien says. “They knew who I was, and that’s the great thing about this place — it’s a small, little hometown store. It’s like Cheers — everybody knows your name.”
The Outlet, which was originally in North Walpole, opened in 1947. Since then, it has had only four managers. Coincidentally, all four have been from North Walpole. That detail — a distinctly local connection — has led to a comfortable familiarity that helps to grow a steady clientele of regulars who have become accustomed to the service O’Brien, full-timer Bill Scanlan and a team of four part-timers provide.
“The best part of this job is the people,” O’Brien says. “I like to consider myself a people-person, so I like that aspect of it. During weekends we get people from everywhere — people from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts — and I’ve known these people for 20 years. They just keep coming back, and it’s nice that we have a relationship with them. They’re people who say they won’t go to any other store. They may have summer places up here or they may be here to go skiing, but they always stop on the way up and then again on their way home.”
The manager cites his team’s reliability, honesty and willingness to go the extra mile with helping to establish the store’s reputation for customer service. “We always try to build a team made up of people who can work with others,” he says. “We look for someone who brings new ideas to the store. I’ve worked with some really good part-timers in the past who have brought in great ideas on how to present things. And I think the fact that they’re always there when I need them is important. They’re willing to bend. Everybody works really well together. We’ve all run into coworkers like that in the past, and it’s a nice thing to have them here.”
He also says increased efficiency and convenience have helped his team provide the service that customers have come to expect. “We can make sure we have the product in for them at all times,” he says. “You don’t see shortages. In a nutshell, everything is much faster and easier.”
A diverse range of wines greets visitors who step inside the Outlet on Ames Plaza Lane, which then leads past two registers and blossoms out into an array of spirits, which line the shelves around the perimeter of the clean, bright store. “I like to show people the wines that we carry,” O’Brien says. “We really show those off. There are some great deals — which is not to say that there aren’t great spirits deals, as well — but we don’t want our wine selection to take a back seat.”
Often, longtime customers will arrive with questions about those wines, and O’Brien and his team are ready to provide recommendations — as well as share family news and catch-up on the goings-on around town. “We have people that come in first thing in the morning and we’ll talk a bit,” O’Brien says. “Then in the afternoon it changes to people getting out of work who stop in and talk a bit. It’s almost like a barber shop in that sense.”
By Bill Burke from Celebrate Magazine.