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Wine & Spirits building owner says he will make improvements

PLCB proposing to move store off Main Street

PHOTO PROVIDED The digital rendering shown above is one of three that Ron Pete, current landlord for the Fine Wine & Good Spirit store, presented to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to showcase the improvements he would make to the store.

LOCK HAVEN — The landlord for the long-standing Wine & Spirits store on Main Street in downtown Lock Haven is proposing major changes to the space to convince the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to keep the store where it’s at.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board voted in April to move the location from 137 E. Main St. to the Clinton Plaza, 120 E. Walnut St., citing the enhancement of customer service as its reasoning to do so.

Since then, landlord Ron Pete has written a letter to PLCB and provided design illustrations and information to showcase the proposed changes he’d make to the store, including creating a back entrance and expanding square footage.

“What we would be doing majorly different is putting in a rear entrance,” Pete told The Express.

The rear entrance would give customers the option to park in the city’s large, Water Street parking lot and walk across Jordans Alley.

This would be a significant expansion of parking for store customers, who now must mostly rely on on-street parking along Main Street.

Pete noted the city did permit the store to have one spot on Main Street designated to the liquor store, although he had requested two.

“I would have liked to have had two more spots (but) I didn’t have the support” of City Council, Pete said.

However, the landlord said he did understand why council made the decision it did.

“If you do it for the state store, then you have to do it for all the stores. I was disappointed in that but I understand,” he said.

Pete said the new entrance would solve one of the issues PLCB has cited for the move: More parking.

“We suggested it to comply with the people who are complaining that there’s not parking. So the people that could park in back of the store would have easy access,” Pete said.

This new entrance would take up about half of the store’s stock room.

“They would be giving up half of their stock room in the back,” Pete said, noting however that PLCB’s stores are a variety of sizes across the Commonwealth. “It’s up to them how to merchandise it.”

Under the new plans, the store would have about 4,680 square feet of sales space compared to about 3,300 now, Pete said. The total size of the store is 5,200 square feet.

Pete said in terms of space, the amount the store currently has may be more than enough given current trends.

“You can buy wine now at Sheetz and Weis so they may not need as much space in wine. Or they may want to use more specialty wine in the state stores. That’s up to the retailer and their merchandiser,” he said.

Beyond just the back entrance, Pete has proposed making other cosmetic changes to the store such as lighting and displays. He said he based his models off of stores in State College and Williamsport.

“That’s their new prototype, if you go to the stores in State College or in Williamsport. We wouldn’t do it, they would tell us what they want,” Pete said.

In the letter Pete submitted to PLCB, he referenced statistics and other issues he believes aren’t addressed in the proposed move: one being a possible violation of the state’s Downtown Location Law.

“I think their mission is to keep downtown strong and not to have the retail stores move to strip malls,” Pete said. “They want to keep the downtown strong, they don’t want to put them in strip malls or two miles from downtown.”

By moving the store outside of downtown Lock Haven, Pete — who was not notified by PLCB in advance of its decision to move the store — contends this would pull business away from the business district.

PLCB is proposing to move the store into the Clinton Plaza, a retail complex off of Walnut Street.

According to the PLCB, the store at its current location posted $2.74 million in gross sales in 2020.

Pete said the store has been there for 43 years and he figures that gross sales number equates to about 200 customers coming onto Main Street in downtown per day, assuming the average sale is about $40.

“Main Street’s vacancy rate is at an all-time low and the state store is a crucial element to ensuring there is enough foot traffic to help these new businesses thrive and to ensure the old businesses continue to thrive,” Pete says in his letter to PLCB.

Also in his letter, Pete points out that, having grown up and done business in the city, he knows its people and their needs.

“I was born in Lock Haven and have a pulse on the town. I own both property there, including the Best Western, Lindsey Place, and townhomes as opposed to the out-of-town conglomerate that owns the building for the proposed new location who does not understand Lock Haven and did not grow up here,” he wrote.

Pete noted that he and his wife, Abbey — who owns 50 percent of the spirits store building — are members of the Clinton County Economic Partnership and Downtown Lock Haven Inc. and have contributed to local organizations such as Millbrook Playhouse and the Ross Library, among others.

Moving the store, he argued, could prove to be costly and without benefit.

“By moving to a larger location, you will be paying more rent and will have increased utility costs. At a 14-percent margin, you will need to do an additional $250,000 in sales to be as profitable as you currently are,” Pete wrote.

With wine sales decreasing, he asked PLCB how they’d increase sales … even while the population of Clinton County has declined.

Pete noted that state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz has voiced her support for the liquor store to remain where it is.

“The majority of the feedback I received from local constituents is that they do not support this move. The State Store has always been a mainstay in Downtown Lock Haven,” a letter from Borowicz to PLCB said.

Lock Haven City Mayor Joel Long has voiced his displeasure of the move, but noted he is glad its at least staying in the city limits.

“I think given the choice, the best location for it is downtown,” Long said. “Because let’s be honest, if you want liquor the state has a monopoly on it,”

“That being said, our main focus and mine as well is that it remain within city limits. So if it does move, the plaza is probably the best place because we’re the only entity in the county that has 24 hour police coverage,” he continued. “So there’s benefits and drawbacks.”

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