Stephan Abrams began his career at The Liquor Store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming as a cashier on the floor. Fresh off the casino scene along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and exhausted by the tiresome work, he took the job at The Liquor Store as a temporary retreat from his career in hospitality. “It was a fluke,” Abrams says. “But I stuck with it.” Today, nearly 25 years later, Abrams has worked his way up through the business and now co-owns The Liquor Store with his business partner, Rod Everett.
A 5,400-square-foot bi-level space that houses nearly 3,000 SKUs, The Liquor Store business has been part of the Jackson Hole community since its founding in 1985, when Peter Cook, a 1995 Market Watch Leader, was at the helm of the operation. In Wyoming, liquor laws are strict and retail liquor licenses are hard to obtain. “You can’t just go to any convenience store and grab beer or liquor like you can in some states,” says Abrams. “Before The Liquor Store opened, retail liquor licenses were always associated with a bar. They were never directly connected to a grocery store.” So The Liquor Store, which is connected to an Albertson’s grocery store, created a new concept for the citizens of Jackson Hole, providing a one-stop-shopping experience where locals could pick up groceries and alcohol at the same time. Throughout his time as owner, Abrams has established The Liquor Store as the leading beverage alcohol destination in the Jackson Hole area for tourists and locals alike.
For his dedication to the Jackson Hole community and his leadership within the beverage alcohol world, Stephan Abrams has been named a 2023 Market Watch Leader.
A Visit Becomes A Career
When Abrams joined The Liquor Store team in 1999 as a cashier, it was meant to be a temporary job to keep him busy while he took a sabbatical from his restaurant hospitality career to visit his brother in Wyoming. That visit has lasted 24 years, and Abrams quickly grew to love the culture of Jackson Hole and The Liquor Store. Within seven years he managed to work his way through the company, and when Cook eventually departed from The Liquor Store in 2006, Abrams took over as a partner. Although his career there started as a “fluke,” Abrams says the world of beverage retail was one he slipped into easily. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, even as a kid. I had my own lawn mowing business and I grew up working in my grandfather’s hardware store,” says Abrams. “I just enjoy the interaction you get to have with customers in retail. If you’re a people person, it’s the right place to be.”
When The Liquor Store opened in 1985, it employed just five people and covered 600 square feet of retail space. Today, Abrams oversees a team of about 50 employees in a 5,400-square-foot store. As an owner, Abrams has built and maintained a strong business model that puts his customers and employees first. “At The Liquor Store, we practice the model of servant leadership, which flips the pyramid of an organization on its head,” Abrams explains. “Typically, the CEO is at the top of the pyramid, and it all funnels down from there. In a servant leadership model, the top of the pyramid is the customer, and then the employees, and the CEO is at the bottom. So my responsibility is to serve everybody in the organization and to ensure everybody has what they need.” This method of leadership has worked to boost morale among The Liquor Store’s employees and decrease turnover. “I may be the owner, but it’s the employees on the floor who execute the day-to-day,” he says. “We all take care of one another.”
Full Tilt Growth
According to Abrams, the growth of The Liquor Store since its start in 1985 has been a community endeavor. Jackson Hole is a small town at the base of the Grand Teton Mountain with a population just shy of 11,000 people. The closest interstate is 90 miles away and over two mountain passes. Tourist traffic is at its peak in the summer due to the popularity of Wyoming’s national parks, and is also high in winter due to local ski resorts. But once spring and fall roll around, Jackson Hole is a quiet town that depends largely on its locals to maintain the economy. “Because this community is located in such a remote, rural area, it’s imperative that you help your neighbors,” Abrams says. “The locals have always been a crucial part of our survival and how we thrive as a business. It’s our locals that not only shop with us, but when they meet a tourist who’s asking for a place to go, they recommend us.”
The company has seen consistent growth among the last three years. In 2021, The Liquor Store’s sales were up 17.81% despite the pandemic continuing to affect tourism within Jackson Hole, with a continued growth of 8.22% in 2022. The store’s sales are expected to soften this year as tourism takes a slight downturn, though they’re still projected to grow 4.63% in 2023. Sales are split almost evenly among the beverage alcohol categories, with wine at 36%, spirits at 35%, and beer at 27%; general merchandise makes up the remaining 2%. The store offers curbside pickup and delivery services as well as online ordering through the company’s website, but Abrams notes that most customers prefer to shop in store.
Sourcing product can be tough for Abrams and other retailers in Wyoming. As a control state, the law requires retailers in Wyoming to source a majority of their products through specific channels. Beer is distributed through beer wholesalers, spirits are purchased from the Wyoming Liquor Division, and wine can either be purchased from the Wyoming Liquor Division or directly shipped from importers and wineries that are not carried by the state-run agency. Abrams and his team have worked to curate a broad selection of wine, beer, and spirits, but at 5,400 square feet, the store holds a limited number of SKUs. “We have to be as selective as we possibly can be,” Abrams says. “There’s only so much shelf space that we can fill.”
Even Sales Spread
Wine accounts for 36% of sales, and The Liquor Store carries about 1,300 wine SKUs ranging from $10-$2,350 a 750-ml. The store carries several wines from nationally recognized labels such as Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon ($18 a 1.5-liter) from Robert Mondavi and Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc ($18 a 750-ml.) from E. & J. Gallo. Smaller-scale offerings include Gros Ventre Cellars Chennin Blanc ($28 a 750-ml.), Baus Family Sauvignon Blanc ($16), Natale Verga Prosecco ($15), and Chateau Musar Hochar Pere Et Fils Rouge ($41.99). The Liquor Store carries several locally sourced wines too, including Jackson Hole Winery’s The Outlaw Red ($50) and Shick Family Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($68). The Liquor Store boasts a 170-square-foot glass-encased wine room that houses up to 275 SKUs at any given time.
Spirits are the second leading category at The Liquor Store, making up 35% of sales and totaling 850 SKUs. Tito’s vodka ($28 a 750-ml.) and Buffalo Trace Bourbon ($31) are popular products at The Liquor Store, but local brands tend to do better due to their competitive pricing. Local picks include Wyoming Whiskey Private Stock Bourbons ($63-$77), Jackson Hole Still Works Absaroka gin ($50), and Grand Teton Distillery Small Batch Huckleberry vodka ($29).
One of the store’s biggest draws is its signature Sloshies, grab-and-go frozen cocktails handmade by the staff and sold in gallon jugs that are incredibly popular throughout the summer months. The Liquor Store sells 1,400 gallons of pre-mixed frozen cocktails in six months during peak seasons, Abrams says. Popular flavors include Piña Colada, Margarita, Mudslide, and Huckleberry vodka ($9 a 16-ounce serving; $15 a 32-ounce; $27 a 64-ounce).
Beer accounts for just over a quarter of sales at The Liquor Store, and the venue offers 600 beer SKUs, 45 of which are local brews like Snake River Brewing’s Jenny Lake lager ($13 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans); Roadhouse Brewing’s Wilson IPA ($11 a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans); Highpoint Cider’s Alpenglow cider ($19 a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans); and Farmstead Cider’s Bear Necessity cider ($15 a 4-pack of 12-ounce cans). The store also carries a variety of mainstream beer brands like Corona ($25 a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans), Budweiser ($36 a 24-pack of 12-ounce cans), and Coors ($25 a 24-pack of 12-ounce cans). “The Liquor Store specializes in carrying locally and regionally made products. We love supporting our local businesses,” Abrams says. “We also carry a wide range of regional microbrews, national brands, and well recognized imports.”
The Liquor Store hosts free events and tastings year-round, offering Jackson Hole citizens and visitors the chance to try both local and nationally distributed products. Additionally, Abrams has recently implemented a wine-storage program called “The Vault,” where customers can store their wines in one of 40 climate-controlled wine lockers in the company’s warehouse. There are no current plans to expand The Liquor Store, but Abrams hopes the store will continue to grow and prosper with the help of the close-knit community in Jackson Hole. “For me it’s all about the people I get to work with and the support that our community gives us,” Abrams says. “That’s what makes us who we are.”