Tag Archives: Shoppers Village Liquors

Foxy’s and the Flaming Embers

I’ve written about how I got into the alcohol business (see “My Last Job Interview” in the blog archives), but I haven’t described that gem of a first retail job.

It was a tiny liquor store on North New Circle Road across the road from the Flaming Embers Inn and next to Foxy’s Diner. It was a choice location…for something…but not for a liquor store. The store had been purchased by the owners of the new chain Shoppers Village Liquors for the liquor license. They were building a large and fancy new wine shop on Reynolds Road and needed a license. At that time this was the accepted procedure for obtaining a liquor license; buying an existing business. Obviously, if an existing business was willing to sell, it probably was not doing much existing business…at least not enough to continue existing.

But there’s the rub. In 1972, you couldn’t just buy the store, close the store, and idle the license until your new location was ready to go. The license had to be in use. Thus, a tiny shop with lousy access to busy highway offered an employment opportunity to a theater hippie who needed a summer job/40+ year career.

My first day on the job consisted of learning how to operate the cash register and the price gun (22 minutes), how to break down a cardboard box (30 seconds), how to lock up and set the alarm (5 minutes), and how to pronounce “Spañada” (a heinous, cheap, and versatile jug wine concoction from Gallo – you could boil it like a toddy, freeze it into ice cubes, spike it with fruit and/or grain alcohol, and pick up thirteen TV channels, three in color). After my grueling 30 minutes of apprenticeship, I was left on my own for that 4pm-12m shift and every other weekday night shift for the next seven months until the store closed in November.

The first night I finished my duties by 5:30 and the customer flow dwindled to practically none after 6:30. I was left with nothing to do until midnight except watch the small TV (three channels, none in color). I didn’t own a TV myself at that time so it was a novelty…for about an hour. At midnight I closed the store and vowed to not spend another night watching TV. It was another two years before I owned a TV of my own.

Instead, I brought books.

Until college, I read two or three books a week for curiosity and entertainment. In college, my reading was hijacked by the required reading. I reverted instantly to my pre-university habits. That summer, I averaged reading a book a night, and still sold my share of Spañada. If I finished my book early, I was left to contemplate the neon sign across the street and meditate on what kind of business plan would lead one to name their hotel “The Flaming Embers Inn.” It smacked of prophesying an insurance claim.

My typical day that summer consisted of an evening of voracious if indiscriminate reading, closing the shop at midnight, slipping next door to Foxy’s for an exquisite Foxy burger, and then home to work on the musical extravaganza Chuck and I were writing until about 3am. It was an immersive routine of consuming and producing art, consuming dubious but affordable food, and paying the rent.

Thanks to that summer, I don’t believe there’s anyone but me that understands and admires the opening scene of “La Boheme” as I do.

But even as I write that, my head tells me only about a million current and past theater hippies have had the same experience. That fact represents the hope of the world.

My heart interrupts my head to shout; “You lie!”

My head and my heart; those two have never gotten along for any length of time, and with any luck they never will. To brutally paraphrase Nikos Kazantzakis; they are both made stronger by the tussle.

I’m thinkin’ neither was made stronger by Foxy’s burgers.

The Polls Are Closed – Let’s Drink!

Elections used to be funny in the alcohol business.
Funny as in “ha-ha?”
Funny as in “odd?”
Yes…both.

Until about seven or eight years ago, liquor stores in Kentucky could not open on Election Day until the polls closed at 6pm. That prohibition led to intriguing moments on the Monday nights preceding Election Days and odder moments commencing at 6pm after a precious few of us had voted.

One Monday night, I was the 22-year-old, long-haired-hippie assistant manager of a Shoppers Village Liquors on the north side of Lexington. A cowboy came in. Well, he wasn’t really a cowboy, though he had a hat and boots. His boots were better than mine, but my Triple-X Beaver Stetson with an RCA crease and a front-exploding feather band put his chapeau to abject shame.
No, he wasn’t a for real cowboy. He was some kind of a law-enforcement entity (sheriff, constable, double-ought agent, witch-finder…whatever) up for re-election in his home county of Estiharlamorgistan. He needed half-pints for the campaign. He asked for six cases of half-pints of Old Forester and started peeling bills. Now six cases of half-pints is almost 300 bottles. At that stage of my inchoate career in alcohol, I had not even seen 300 half-pints of one brand, much less have it on hand for purchase. I explained that to the ersatz town marshal, sold him the seven half-pints I had on hand, gave him directions to my nearest competitor, wished him good luck on his campaign, and meditated on the validity of my faith in democracy and the value of my puny personal vote.

The usual routine for opening the store on Election Night was often eerie.
I would hover near the front door with my key, and watch the clock and the parking lot. If the weather was good, the folks who had been waiting would congregate outside the door and there would be banter and jocularity. Banter and jocularity…on Election Night…sigh…I miss it so.
If it was a cold night however, people would cower in their dark cars until they saw me actually unlock the doors. Their dark cars would look like tombstones in the dusk. The customers would emerge as a group and shuffle in. If the first arrival had ever growled; “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” I would not have been at all surprised. I would not have corrected them as to my name or gender. I would simply and quickly started hammering boards over the windows.

Most of the time though, it was a real good time.

The best time was when my friend, radio personality Dave Krusenklaus, decided it would be fun to make an evening of celebration out of Election Night. Celebration…on Election Night…sigh…I miss it so.
He rented a limo and a tux and planned to meander through a selection of candidate campaign celebrations. Well, a procession like that could only start at the Liquor Barn at 6pm!
Kruser’s limo pulled up. He was broadcasting live and he led a large and raucous crowd in a countdown to the polls closing and the store opening. My employees loved it.

The worst Election Night was my own damn fault.

I had been working in my office all day. From my desk, I had a straight on view of the front door and had watched as hundreds of customers had walked up to the front door, read the CLOSED TILL 6PM sign, and left. No retailer could remain unaffected by such a travesty. My frustration roiled until I left my office to wander into other parts of the store and recover from the total unfairness of life.
When I reached our receiving area, I noticed that a tiny delivery of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons was being processed.
Sensing an opportunity to reclaim some of the day’s lost sales, I raced back to my office and triumphantly tweeted the delivery.
By 5:30, the line stretched around the building. The store manager, realizing who was responsible for drawing this horde which exceeded his supply of Pappy by a factor of 20, ungraciously turned over the crowd control responsibilities to me. I spent the rest of the evening explaining and apologizing to little good effect.

THAT was not a real good time.

Those prohibitions are now gone and that’s probably for the best. But…it was a quaint reminder that Election Days are special days…not just another day.

Special day…Election Day…sigh…I miss it so.