At the close of business one day last fall, Mike Smith, manager of the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet at 500 Woodbury Ave., in Portsmouth, shut the lights off and locked the doors for the last time.
The next morning, he headed across the parking lot and turned the lights on at the newest Liquor and Wine Outlet in the state. It was a walk more than a year in the making, but just a stone’s throw away. He and his team began serving residents and visitors in the newly- constructed, larger and brighter location.
“We got this new store ready while the old store was open and running,” Smith, who has worked with the New Hampshire Liquor Commission since 1996, says of the process. “One day we closed that store and the next day we opened the new one.”
Moving from the old location to the new one took a team of nearly 30 people from New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets across the state and from the Commission’s headquarters, who helped stock the shelves daily for nearly three weeks. Wine and spirits were brought in from warehouses, transfers were made from other stores and product from the old store was brought across the parking lot and into the new store. “The effort people put in was extremely helpful,” Smith says.
The Outlet, located just off the Portsmouth Traffic Circle, has been open for nearly eight months, and has left regular visitors “amazed” at the difference.
“They love the size of the new store, they love the larger selection we offer and they love the customer service we can provide,” Smith says. “It looks much different. It’s brighter, cleaner and it has a very high ceiling, which gives it a much larger feel.”
The benefactors of the added convenience and selection are a diverse and changing clientele made up of a mixture of local shoppers and travelers, thanks to its unique location at the traffic circle, and its proximity to I-95.
At 22,000 square feet and with eight registers, the new store is more than 8,000 square feet larger than the previous location, and offers nearly 3,500 more distinct items. It’s also provided an unexpected health benefit for the team.
“We put a lot of miles walking around now,” Smith says, laughing. “We can track as much as 7 to 8 miles a day walking back and forth. It’s so much bigger. If we have to go from the back of the warehouse to the front of the store, it’s a much longer distance to traverse.”
Step inside the new Portsmouth location, and customers will discover an extensive selection of wine on the left side of the store and a diverse stock of spirits on the right. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the center section, where shoppers will find what Smith’s team calls the Power Aisle. It’s there that they stock the store’s Price Buster items — spirits designated for special pricing.
It’s all put together, stocked and maintained by Smith’s team of full-timers: Kaleigh Hensley, Clarina Graca, Duane DuBois and Randy Durling, Jr., as well as a support staff of 45 part-timers.
“We all feel like the best part is providing great customer service,” Smith says. “But I also personally enjoy treating my employees well. I always try to make sure the people here are in the best position they can be to make decisions and to provide the best customer service.”
While much of the staff has only been at the Portsmouth location for a little more than a year, they brought with them a wealth of experience from other locations. Graca, for example, has helped manage other stores for nearly 20 years, Smith says. “Her experience is truly valuable to what we do,” he says.
With the completion of the parking lot refurbishment, the new Portsmouth Outlet project is complete.
“People have been very happy with it,” Smith says. “There’s a lot to offer here.”
Written by Bill Burke for Celebrate Magazine.