The US beverage alcohol industry generates over 3.8 million jobs for workers like Peluso, and contributes nearly $448 billion to the nation’s economy, but even liquor industry execs admit that liquor sales are not recession-proof, but rather, recession-resistant, not immune to the pressures of the economy.
Still, Peluso says, “For some reason, it seems that customers always can find the money to drink, gamble, and smoke.”
The Massachusetts liquor industry consists of almost 4,000 liquor stores that are, for the most part, small independently owned stores. T and L Liquors, a family-owned operation, is a typical package store. The beer cooler, filled with six packs, single bottles, and 40-ounce brews, accounts for about half of the sales, while the fine wine department boasts the usual array of pinot noir, zinfandel and cabernets. Cigarettes, snacks, and candy are on the racks, and of course, lottery tickets – lotto games, scratch tickets, and Keno – bring customers into the store. Peluso remembers the day a customer won $10,000.
“She was talking to herself while studying a scratch ticket. All of a sudden, she said, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, I won!’ “
Peluso has worked in retail liquor stores for 10 years now, and although she’s not the proprietor of the business, she has some words of advice for those who might be interested in entering the industry. “Know your business, know your clientele, and location is key. Work for a store first, to make sure it’s something you really enjoy, but as with anything, it’s a business first.” She adds, “Make sure you get employees you really trust and know,” since many store owners find their biggest security problems are with their employees.
Q: What’s your typical day on the job like?
A: I work the 5-10 p.m. shift, so when I come in, I make sure that all the shelves are stocked, work the cash register, of course, sell lottery tickets, redeem empty bottles, and in general, try to keep customers happy.
Q: What goes into your job that people might not be aware of?
A: There’s a lot of lifting and lugging. You have to take boxes down and rearrange inventory, as well as actually make the six-packs. The beer comes usually comes in a 24 or 30-pack, and we need to breakdown the cases by placing the cans or bottles in plastic rings or boxes.
Q: What’s the busiest time of year?
A: During the holidays, like before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and then it picks up again around the Superbowl. Graduation, Fourth of July, and baseball season is also busy.
Q: What do you say if customers ask for your advice on the type of wine or beer to drink?
A: I tell them that I don’t drink myself, but offer them choices that are top sellers. Sometimes people will say, “You don’t drink? You’re in the wrong job.” But I can still offer advice on what to buy.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of your job?
A: Shutting people down. If you can see they’re not walking in a straight line, smell booze on their breath, and coming in a couple times a day, then they shouldn’t be drinking.
Q: What’s the oddest question you’ve gotten?
A: Someone once asked, “Do you deliver?” I said, “No, this isn’t a pizza joint.”