Suffolk ABC stores rack up $6 million

Published 9:21 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012


SUFFOLK—At Suffolk’s busiest hard liquor store, the most popular spirit depends on the season.

Cathie Gilchrist, manager at the Suffolk West ABC, said customers stock up on tequila for their margaritas in the summer.

Things change when the heat ends. “In the winter, gin picks up, and tequila goes down” as hot toddies take precedence, she said.

But vodka is the biggest year-round seller, according to Gilchrist, followed by bourbon and rum.

The ABC at Suffolk West Shopping Center, where Gilchrist said walk-ins outnumber licensee sales 10 to one, has slaked more thirsts than the city’s other three state-run liquor outlets in the 12 months to the end of June.

The store at 821 W. Constance Road sold 36,575 gallons of alcohol — worth $2.13 million — according to the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Next was the Kings Landing Center store, at 2815 Godwin Blvd., where 28,707 gallons were sold, grossing $1.93 million.

Assistant manager Shavior Darden, an ABC worker of about six years, said that while vodka is the biggest year-round seller at that store, other products and brands come in and out of fashion. “FireBall (whiskey) is a fad right now,” he said.

In October, Darden said, people start stocking up on gift sets for Christmas. He cited Evan Williams as the most popular of five different types of eggnog the store sells.

The store restocks every Wednesday, he said, and sells more liquor going into Thanksgiving and in the week before Christmas than any other time.

“We get to know quite a few customers by names,” he said. “A lot of customers you see maybe three times week.”

Like Gilchrist, who has been working at ABC stores for 26 years — including 12 years at Suffolk West and stints in Norfolk, Chesapeake and Portsmouth — Darden is more than satisfied with his job.

“I like the atmosphere,” he said. “The job is not hard. The pay is good; it’s just an ideal situation.”

Gilchrist said, “You are dealing with the public and never know what to expect. You get some characters.”

Stan Mardre manages the Harbour View and Bennett’s Creek stores, which sold 25,348 gallons worth $1.8 million and 6,204 gallons worth just under a half-million dollars, respectively.

The Bennett’s Creek store opened in January, and reported six months’ of sales.

Mardre, who declined to comment explicitly on sales, said he has worked in ABC stores for 36 years, including eight or nine years in Chesapeake. “I’ve worked at all four Suffolk stores over the years,” he said.

Because North Suffolk is a growing area, he said, there’s no way to compare sales in North Suffolk stores to the other two. But, he added, the Bennett’s Creek store “right now” is about as busy as Harbour View.

The state’s busiest ABC store during the period was Hilltop North in Virginia Beach, selling over 128,000 gallons and pulling in $9.22 million.

Profits from Virginia’s ABC stores are returned to state coffers. “We put millions back into general funds, which is the benefit of state-run liquor stores,” department spokeswoman Maureen Haney said.