Bill allows young adults to drink w/parents 

Monday, March 13, 2017 2:25:00 PM

By: Raquel Martin

Posted: Mar 07, 2017 07:09 PM CST

Updated: Mar 07, 2017 07:09 PM CST

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Illinois-- - ILLINOIS -- Young adults could soon be able to order alcohol at restaurants around the state. Thanks to a new bill, people as young as 18 could be served wine or beer with a parent's permission.

Lawmakers who proposed the bill say they feel this type of change would be harmless since it's still the parent's decision.

"You know, it's okay to sit down and have a beer with my dad or have a cup of wine with my mom and sit down and have family time," says University of Illinois Springfield senior Malcolm Bennett.

This new bill could make this type of family time possible outside the home. 

"The normalizing of parental consent for 18- and 20-year olds, to me, that's the part that's making me raise the most eyebrow," says Sociology Lecturer Tiffani Saunders. She researches family structure and behavior at University of Illinois-Springfield.

She's worried this legislation enables young adults to start bad habits sooner.

"If you do have a family member who's an alcoholic, in general, we do question your judgment, so having that same family member, parent, for example, be the one who can say, 'Yes, you're allowed to drink,' that could be problematic."

She says young adults should be steered away, not towards, alcohol.

"People are still developing until the age of 25, which is why we like to delay alcohol as much as we can."

Many argue normalizing underage drinking leads to healthier usage in the future.

"I think it's a good way to introduce it to them because it's better than having them come completely ignorant to college and have them take advice from other individuals," says UIS freshman Alyssa McDonald. 

"You kind of have, like a mentor there to make sure you're okay if you drink too much, so I think it's just safer," says UIS freshman Austin Bransky. 

The bill would only allow young adults to be served beer and wine while with parents, so no hard liquor.

There are 10 states that have this law. Those include: Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

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Tracking the Tobacco 21 Trend 

Monday, March 13, 2017 1:39:00 PM

Source: Cowen and Company

March 10th


The Cowen Insight

In 2017, more than 20 states have introduced bills to increase the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21. We continue to benchmark the roll-out of states increasing the tobacco purchasing age to indoor smoking bans, and maintain our estimate for states raising the tobacco purchasing age to have a ~10 bps volume impact on a progressive compound basis, over the next 5 years.


Where We Stand Today

In 2016, Hawaii and California became the first two states to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21, with Washington D.C. passing a similar measure last year. As such, 7% of U.S. cigarette volumes are now in states with a minimum purchase age of 21. Outside of states, we've also seen 212 cities and counties raise the minimum age to 21 according to, including major cities such as Boston, Chicago and New York.


Tobacco 21 Legislative Proposals Heating Up

In 2017, we've already seen 22 states introduce measures to raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21, though bills have already failed in 4 states. Indeed, we've seen similar legislation introduced at the state level over the past few years, but that pace of bill introduction has increased meaningfully, as just 15 states introduced bills to increase the tobacco purchasing age in 2016. Of these states with proposals introduced this year, many have not seen a tobacco 21 bill proposed in recent years, including Florida (6.5% of volumes).


Volume Impact Continues to Be Manageable

We maintain our belief that policy change raising the minimum tobacco purchasing age will progress similar to what we have seen for indoor smoking bans. While California was also the second state to pass comprehensive smoking bans in 1998, we saw other states follow California a few years after passage, with ~60% cigarette volumes being covered by states with comprehensive smoking bans by 2008. Similarly, we hold our assumption that ~60% of cigarette volumes will be covered in states with a minimum purchase age of 21 in 10 years. As such, we maintain our estimate for states raising the minimum age to 21 to have a ~10 bps impact on the 5-year volume CAGR, though we reflect a deterioration in youth incidence, offset by a stabilization in per capita consumption.


International Developments

Outside of the U.S. we've seen a bigger focus on utilizing excise taxes and graphic health warnings to fight against tobacco use, but initiatives to raise the tobacco age could gain momentum. Earlier this month, Thailand raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 20, while Health Canada said that it would consider raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21. Meanwhile in Russia, we've seen a proposal this year to ban smoking for anyone born after 2015 and have seen proposals to raise the tobacco purchasing age in the past.

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Restaurant sales, traffic tumble in February 

Monday, March 13, 2017 1:36:00 PM

Industry performance declines despite improved results in January

Source: NRN

Mar 09, 2017

Same-store sales fell 3.7 percent in February, with traffic declining 5.0 percent. Unfortunately, January's improved results were not a turning point in declining industry performance. Trends are hard to discern since weather, holiday shifts in Valentine's Day and President's Day and winter breaks distorted weekly results.

A macro view leaves little room for optimism. Same-store sales averaged a 2.7 percent decline for the last three months. February's results were among the weakest in the last four years. This insight comes from data by TDn2K through The Restaurant Industry Snapshot, based on weekly sales from over 26,000 restaurant units and 145 brands, representing $66 billion dollars in annual revenue.

Guest checks plummet

Guest checks grew by a modest 1.2 percent in February, the lowest rate in four years. By contrast, checks had grown roughly 2.3 percent in the previous six months. This is a function of more conservative

pricing, customer trade downs or discount promotions. All segments experienced a decline in the rate of check growth last month. Casual dining and quick service were virtually flat compared with the prior year. The bar and grill sub-segment actually experienced a drop in average checks versus 2016.

The macroeconomic environment

"While the stock market soars and confidence jumps, the economy continues on its steady but unspectacular upward path," reported Joel Naroff, President of Naroff Economic Advisors and TDn2K economist. "Growth in the first quarter should exceed the tepid pace at the end of last year and with Europe finally starting to recover, the economy should pick up steam as we move through the year."

Consumers are spending, but they are being battered by rising inflation. The rebound in energy costs may be helping that sector but it is not doing much for households. Indeed, spending power has flatlined as wage gains are barely offsetting price increases. That is putting additional pressure on the restaurant industry.

Still, the labor market is as tight as it has been in decades. Rising wages should lead to better spending in the months ahead. One note of caution: "The higher inflation has given the green light to the Fed to raise rates and if Trump spending and tax policies are implemented, rates are likely to rise faster than most currently expect."

Income tax refund delay

The IRS delayed roughly 40 million tax refunds associated with families claiming the "Earned Income Tax Credit" or the "Additional Child Tax Credit" this year. These delays undoubtedly depressed sales in the early weeks of February. In 2014, almost 30 million families received more than $70 billion in Earned Income Tax credits. Even a small delay in refunds had the potential to greatly impact consumer spending. Looking forward, the release of refunds provides some upside for the industry in the coming weeks.

Fine dining and upscale casual winning the segment battle

Fine dining and upscale casual were the strongest segments in February. Fine dining was the only segment up overall. The weakest segments, both with same-store sales below -4.0 percent, were casual dining and family dining.

Upcoming: The Easter effect

Easter is in April this year instead of March. The potential impact varies by segment. Brands where diners tend to celebrate special family occasions, such as upscale casual and fine dining, typically see an increase in sales during these periods. For these segments, same-store sales growth will likely be hurt in March but aided in April. For the dining segments where the holiday shift is less likely to impact consumer behavior, the sales impact will be less pronounced.

The Restaurant Workforce

According to the Q1 2017 Workforce Index published by TDn2K's People Report restaurant operators predict staffing challenges to continue in 2017. However they are increasing at a slightly slower pace. One factor in this relative easing of labor woes is the slowdown in restaurant job growth reported in recent months. At the hourly employee level, 48 percent of restaurant companies reported that they planned to add staff during the first quarter, compared with 66 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016.

For restaurant managers, 50 percent of companies said they would add staff during the first quarter of 2017. The percentage of companies that expected to increase their management staff the previous quarter was 54 percent.

Job growth may be slowing, but both hourly and management turnover continue to rise. As a consequence, recruiting and retaining qualified employees is the top people-related challenge for restaurant operators. TDn2K analysis continues to reinforce that service and guest experience are the key drivers in performance. Best-in-class brands demonstrate that food and beverage are important, but people and service provide unique and indefensible competitive advantages.

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Illinois pitches sales tax for Netflix, Spotify, other streaming services 

Monday, March 13, 2017 1:34:00 PM

Budget + Tax / Article

March 3, 2017

By Joe Kaiser

A new proposal from state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, would tax internet streaming services in Illinois, much like the potentially illegal internet streaming tax implemented in Chicago.

Following efforts to raise the income tax and impose taxes on payroll, services, sugary drinks and more, some Illinois state senators now want to tax internet streaming.

An amendment filed March 2 would apply a 6.25 percent sales tax to cable and satellite TV, as well as internet streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify and Xbox Live. For Chicagoans, this means an additional tax on top of a 9 percent citywide “amusement tax” they’re already paying for those services.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, filed the amendment to Senate Bill 9, part of the package of bills that make up the Senate’s “grand bargain. In addition to TV and streaming services, SB 9 would expand the 6.25 percent statewide sales tax to an array of other services, including repairs, landscaping, laundry, tattoos, body piercings, tanning and much more.

With the 9 percent amusement tax and a 6.25 percent statewide sales tax, a Chicagoan’s Netflix bill for a standard $9.99 subscription, for example, would be roughly $11.50. The city’s amusement tax is not only regressive, but also legally questionable.

In 2015, Chicago’s Finance Department expanded the city’s 9 percent amusement tax to cover online streaming media services such as Netflix, Spotify and Xbox Live, among others. The Liberty Justice Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of customers against the city, arguing that the tax is illegal and unconstitutional under state and federal law. A Cook County Circuit Court judge denied the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit in July 2016, allowing it to proceed.

The city issued notice in November 2016 that it was again expanding its 9 percent amusement tax, this time to businesses subscribing to paid programming – a creative way to skirt federal law prohibiting taxing satellite providers the same as cable providers, the latter of which the city already taxes. By directly taxing businesses – such as restaurants or bars that subscribe to satellite TV for sports packages – the tax is imposed directly on the consumer rather than the satellite provider. This means each business that buys an annual premium sports subscription, which can cost $5,000-$10,000, could be paying more than $400 in new taxes every year under that tax. And these same businesses would be hit again if the state implements the proposed sales tax on cable and satellite TV.

The Senate’s tax would be imposed on “the privilege of using [the taxable service] in this State,” according to the proposed legislation. That language makes the application and collection of a tax on streaming services ambiguous and potentially illegal. First, what does using a streaming service in Illinois mean? Does it apply to a person with a layover at O’Hare International Airport who is passing the time watching Netflix on her tablet? Or does it apply to any resident of Illinois regardless of whether she is within state lines when she uses Spotify or Netflix? The bill doesn’t say.

Second, this bill would require any company in the world that offers streaming services on the internet to become a tax collector for the state of Illinois simply by having one customer who lives (or uses) its streaming service in Illinois. That requirement is likely illegal. In 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the state’s “Amazon tax,” which forced online retailers to pay Illinois taxes regardless of whether they had a storefront or other physical presence in the state. In its ruling, the Illinois Supreme Court said the tax conflicted with the Internet Tax Freedom Act – a federal law enacted in 2000 – which prohibits states from imposing discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce.

Throughout the “grand bargain” discussions, taxpayers have been disregarded, as lawmakers opt for new taxes instead of the necessary budgetary reforms the state needs. The new proposals taxing services – including cable and satellite TV and internet streaming – offer nothing more than a bigger bill for taxpayers, especially in Chicago.

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Breakthru Beverage Group: An Organizational Announcement from Danny Wirtz, Vice Chairman 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017 12:03:00 PM

Source: Respublica

March 3, 2017


I am pleased to announce that Jennifer Zenker has been promoted to Senior Vice President, Governmental and Regulatory Affairs.


In this role, Jenn will manage Breakthru Beverage Group's Government Affairs department, as well as continue to work as the lead on trade practice and regulatory compliance matters with the legal department. Jenn will continue to report to me, and Don Pydo, Vice President of Governmental Affairs, will now report into Jenn. 


Under Jenn's leadership, the government affairs team will pursue a strategic approach to our public affairs agenda. Working alongside Breakthru's market leaders, the Wine and Spirits Association of America (WSWA), state associations and other stakeholders, Jenn and Don will shape policy development and legislation that is advantageous to wholesalers and prioritize the ongoing education of regulators and policymakers on the importance of the three-tier system. They will also seek to increase our associates' engagement on our government affairs agenda and initiatives.


Prior to joining Charmer-Sunbelt Group in 2008, Jenn practiced law at Clifford Chance and Howrey, LLP in New York and Washington, D.C. She graduated with honors from George Washington University's National Law Center, and holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before taking on the government and regulatory portfolio for Breakthru, Jenn served as Assistant General Counsel for the Charmer Sunbelt Group.


Please join me in congratulating Jenn on her promotion, and wishing her and Don well in their continued advocacy on behalf of Breakthru Beverage Group and the industry. 

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Lowering the legal limit won't save lives 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017 12:01:00 PM

Most drunk drivers who kill are already ignoring the law


Source: Washington Post

By Richard Berman

February 27, 2017


New traffic fatality data shows that U.S. motor-vehicle deaths increased by 6 percent last year.


Legislators who want to look like they're "doing something" to address this problem are bullying a favorite target: social drinkers. In part, this means a new push to lower the legal blood alcohol limit (BAC) for drivers from .08 to .05. Hawaii, Utah, and Washington state lawmakers are considering adopting such legislation. Other states surely won't be far behind.


This crusade is not new. In 2013, the National Traffic Safety Board made the recommendation to lower the legal limit to .05 in all states. But at the time even the nation's most prominent advocacy organization for victims of drunk driving - Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) - refused to support such a notion. The group's founder, Candy Lightner, called the idea "impractical" and "a waste of time."


That group is still against it and for good reason. Lowering the legal limit to .05 will do almost nothing in the effort to reduce traffic fatalities. In fact, only 1 percent of alcohol-related traffic fatalities nationwide involve a driver that has a BAC between .05 and .08. And those "alcohol-related" fatalities are not to be confused with "alcohol-caused."


In reality, it takes very little alcohol to achieve the proposed arrest limit of .05. For a 120-pound woman to be arrested, she could have had little more than a single drink. And a 150-pound man could be charged with drunk driving after two beers. Depending on state law, that would mean being subject to jail, loss of license, huge fines and much higher insurance premiums for years.


While this war on social drinkers rages on, drunk driving rates have plummeted. University research shows the widely accepted practice of talking on a hands-free cell phone impairs a driver as much as having a BAC of .08. Research also shows that texting and driving is many times more dangerous than driving at .05. Drowsy and drugged drivers? They get almost no attention despite being more dangerous than many moderate drinkers who drive home after an evening restaurant meal.

If legislators can't shake their drunk driving jihad, they should at least stop targeting responsible drinkers who just want to enjoy a cocktail after work or share a bottle of wine over dinner. Instead, they should target hardcore drunk drivers who commit the overwhelming share of drunk driving fatalities.


According to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 70 percent of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involve a driver with a BAC of .15 or above. And the average BAC of a drunk driver involved in a fatal crash is .19 - more than twice the current legal limit.


If these hardcore drunk drivers already disobey the law by driving at such high BAC levels when the legal limit is .08, lowering the legal limit to .05 will surely do nothing to change their behavior. But it will entrap responsible citizens with jobs and mortgages.


Advocates will point out that many European countries already bear a legal limit of .05. But what they won't tell you is many of these countries also allow teenagers to drink and drive. Some of the drinking ages are as low as 16. In a situation where teenagers, who feel amplified effects of alcohol and are not seasoned drivers, are legally allowed to drink and get behind the wheel, more restrictive laws may make sense. But as long as the U.S. drinking age remains sky-high at 21, this is not an apt comparison.


Drunk driving is still a serious threat to traffic safety. However, lawmakers should avoid scoring political points by passing feel-good legislation that does nothing to address the larger dangers on the road. There's a difference between looking good and doing good.


Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

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Sen. Durbin, Rep. Welch Speak Out on Swipe Fee Repeal Efforts 

Monday, March 06, 2017 2:33:00 PM

NACS Online /

Champions of 2010 debit swipe fee reform say that repealing the Durbin Amendment will double bank debit fees and decrease competition.
March 2, 2017

WASHINGTON – This week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) penned an op-ed in a widely-read Capitol Hill newspaper to urge members of Congress to vote against a Wall Street windfall.

“Big banks are making record profits these days, but they want more. Now they want Congress to double the fees big banks receive every time a debit card is swiped. This would be a gut punch to Main Street merchants who are already paying $18 billion per year in debit swipe fees, and lead to higher prices for consumers at the checkout counter and at the gas pump,” Durbin and Welch co-wrote in The Hill.

They cited legislation authored by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) that he will soon reintroduce to Congress, calling it “his massive Wall Street giveaway bill” that is expected “to include a repeal of a 2010 law, known as the Durbin Amendment, which finally reined in the debit swipe fee fixing that Visa and MasterCard created on behalf of the financial industry.” 

If debit swipe fee reform law is repealed, “Visa and MasterCard will once again be allowed to fix fee rates like they used to. Big bank fee rates will double, giving an estimated $8 billion per year windfall to Wells Fargo and other bank giants, the equivalent of a multibillion-dollar tax increase on retail purchases,” Durbin and Welch wrote, adding that the law also put an end to Visa and MasterCard’s anti-competitive habit of paying incentives to banks to block other debit card networks from handling the banks’ transactions.

“Repealing this would likely be the death knell for small debit networks that are desperately trying to compete with Visa and MasterCard. This is why Visa, MasterCard and their bank allies want repeal—they want to kill competition.”   

The members also called for Congress to “think hard” about the future of American transactions and the entities that are trying to control the system:

“Visa and MasterCard dominate the electronic payments industry, and for years they have been allowed to dictate the rules governing fees, security standards and card acceptance. They set these rules in ways that entrench their market dominance and maximize fees for themselves and their bank partners, even if competition, security and the consumer experience suffer as a result. For example, why is the U.S. the only major economy that uses chip cards without PINs when chip and PIN is faster and more secure? Because we let Visa, MasterCard and their bank allies set the rules, and they make more in fees when PINs are not used.”

For many years, NACS has worked closely with Durbin and Welch on Swipe fees, and both have been the champions for retailers and consumers since the early stages nearly a decade ago. Their op-ed sends a clear message that not only will they, along with the convenience and fuel retailing industry, continue fighting to protect debit swipe fee reform, but that the threat posed by Hensarling’s legislation is very real.

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Proof will track your blood alcohol content with a wristband 

Monday, March 06, 2017 2:29:00 PM

Source: TechCrunch

by Matthew Lynley

Jan 7, 2017

 Checking your blood alcohol content with a breathalyzer while out with some friends might just be a party trick - but if you really wanted to know it to figure out whether or not you should have another drink, it might be awkward to pull one out.

 So that's why Evan Strenk started Milo Sensors, a company built around wearable sensors that detects various chemicals in your body based on perspiration from your skin. The company is starting off with Proof, a small band that can gauge your blood alcohol content and send the information to an app where you can subtly see where you are in the night and whether you should order that next beer. Milo Sensors showed the product off at CES in Eureka Park this year.

 "There's a breathalyzer out there but no one uses it because they're awkward," Strenk said. "The use case there is you put our sensor on, at 6 p.m., you set your alarms for yourself, and everything's paired with an app. [When I check my phone] you don't even know if I'm messaging someone or checking my BAC. And because it's continuous tracing, you can set alarms for yourself, like hitting .08 percent. I want to be alerted, maybe if I'm driving home, and you can connect with safety buddies, friends and family at undesirable levels."

 The goal is to continuously track a user's blood alcohol level, instead of waiting for a single moment to ping the phone with an alarm. By doing that, users can get a sense of how fast they are ramping up and know whether or not to slow down. The band transmits the information to the app, which quickly shows a chart of how high their BAC is.

 While users can detect their BAC for now, the technology translates into detecting other things like caffeine as well, Strenk said. "The skin ends up being a superhighway of molecules," with the technology being applicable to a different variety of use cases," he said. For now, gauging BAC made sense - and, also, the co-founders of the company decided on it over a few pitchers of beer. It could have been an earring, or started off with detecting lactic acid, but after the round they settled on BAC and a band.

 The owner slots a cartridge into the band around 6 p.m. before they are planning to go out. The cartridge is disposable, which will cost a few dollars, Strenk said. "The analogy is, you put a raw piece of meat on the counter, over a few hours it turns brown. Similarly you open a cartridge, it oxidizes. It goes beyond step counting, it goes beyond heart rate, it's reading bio-analytic through your skin."

 There's always a risk that another large wearable company like Fitbit could figure out how to integrate something like this into their products. Though the whole using a disposable cartridge part may put a hamper on things, Strenk said the main advantage Milo Sensors has is that it's been doing research for more than two years.

 Milo Sensors submitted the first prototype to the NIH last year, which compared the results against breathalyzers and blood samples and awarded the company a cash prize, Strenk said. The company was more or less in stealth until launching at CES this year. The band will come out sometime this year, though Strenk wouldn't specify, and will cost somewhere between $100 and $150.

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Restaurants: Continuing to see wage pressures beyond minimum wage issues  

Monday, March 06, 2017 2:28:00 PM

Source: Goldman Sachs

09 Jan 2017


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the detailed breakdown of wages data for November on 01/06. It continues to show a significant gap between the impact of minimum wage increases vs actual restaurant wage inflation, which supports our view that restaurant wage inflation will remain a headwind into 2017 regardless of any federal minimum wage increases. More broadly, low-end wage growth accelerated in November, remains elevated relative to post-recession levels, and continues to outpace higher-end wage inflation. We provide other key takeaways below:


Limited service wage pressures in excess of minimum wages continue: Limited service restaurant wages tend to correlate strongly with changes in minimum wages (as they fall at or just above minimum wages, Exhibit 4); however, this relation broke starting in 2014 and suggests additional pressure as a result of tighter labor markets. Even with limited service inflation moving down sequentially (+5.1% yoy vs +4.6% in October), it is outpacing the impact of minimum wages by 2.8%. Taking into account an additional 70bps of national pressure from state minimum wages increases taking effect 12/31/16 or 1/1/17 and maintaining this 2.8% gap suggests 5.0% inflation in 2017 vs 4.4% in 2016.


Casual dining inflation also remains elevated: Casual dining wage inflation remained flat at 5.1% yoy, which is ahead of the guidance ranges provided by companies.


Low-end income growth moderates, but supportive of industry demand: Low-end wage growth accelerated to 2.7% in November (vs 2.6% in October); however, income growth (the sum of wage and job growth) slowed slightly (at 4.5% in November, 3m moving average). We continue to view this as supportive of industry demand trends; however, would note secular share losses are acting as a meaningful offset (particularly among casual diners).


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Binny's Continues Expansion 

Monday, March 06, 2017 1:25:00 PM

Chicago Chain focuses on remodels and new locations



by Liza B. Zimmerman

January 04, 2017


"We want to grow at a healthy pace, but organically, not ever sacrificing standards along the way," said Doug Jeffirs, the Lincolnwood, Illinois-based director of wine sales for the 35-location chain. Binny's has been opening an average of three stores a year, all of which are currently in Illinois, although Jeffirs added that the company is eyeing the neighboring state of Wisconsin. Plans had been in the works to open locations in neighboring Indiana before recent laws changed, mandating that wine store owners must live in Indiana in order to open stores there.


Harold Binstein founded the operation in 1948 as Gold Standard Enterprises and Binny's superstore opened in Des Plaines in 1993. Michael left his career as a journalist in Washington D.C. to join the business when his father passed away in 1995.


The newest stores' range from 20,000 to 30,000 feet and carry 4,000 to 6,000 of wine SKUs. "All have walk-in wine cellars, humidors and rare and collectible spirits rooms," said Jeffirs. Some of them even have, space permitting, tasting bars and classrooms.


Four new stores opened last year [ed: 2016]--in the suburbs of Mokena, Montgomery, Lincolnwood and the city location of Logan Square--and three remodels took place. Corporate already has papers signed on the next two locations to open in Portage Park and Springfield in 2017.


In terms of recent remodels, Jeffirs said that "we try to let the customers lead us here. We use comments and surveys and reaction to a lot of feedback." Some of the changes include wider aisles and display signage to make the stores easier to navigate. Reviews from Binny's staff and major wine publications, as well as pricing, are also prominently displayed. Unlike BevMo!'s stores, Binny's locations do not score wines. The new look strives to be boutique in a big box format, he said. He added that the changes "aren't dramatic, but center around staff and service."


When choosing new areas in which to open stores "lots of factors come into play, including customer requests," he noted. "Before we opened our St. Charles store, a customer sent a nice--and compelling!--letter with $20 for gas money [asking us] to come and check out the neighborhood." It was $20 well spent as it lead to Binny's opening a store there in July of 2006.


Service Comes First


Competition in Chicago for wine sales is fierce between Binny's, independent fine-wine shops such as Perman and the Printer's Row Wine Shop, supermarkets and even drug stores like Jewel-Osco. For Jeffirs, what sets the chain apart is a focus on knowledgeable customer service. "We have more than 100 staff members certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust [WSET], Court of Master Sommeliers and Cicerone [beer studies] program."


The chain also runs WSET courses at its stores and pays for any level of WSET courses for employees who want to pursue further wine studies, after they have been in their jobs for at least six months. They also host hundreds of classes with special teachers that are free for wine club members, each year.


Their showplace location is the Marcey Street store that used to be Sam's Wine & Spirits. The original warehouse has been built out and connected to a three-story brick building that used to be a 1905 pumping station. The 50,000 square-foot space is now home to both retail space and a tasting room. It is the chain's top-grossing store, bringing in tens of millions in revenue a year.


"We have taken over most of the larger players in Chicago," Jeffirs added. Total Wine & More! had made a brief foray into the city in the 1990s but soon closed up shop. The former's Zimmerman's chain was also absorbed by Binny's. Chain player Jewel-Osco is coming on strong and are "banking 100-percent on the convenience factor as they don't complete on pricing or knowledge."


"We understand the importance of convenience," for consumers, he added. So Binny's tries to offer a combination of "being a destination and being in the right spot." They strive to offer the fullest wine set possible, even in suburban and rural markets.


Stores in the city tend to be more diverse and focus more on imports. There is a minimal core list for all stores and individual buyers have a fair amount of autonomy. For instance, the store in Montgomery stocks three times the amount of Midwestern wines as most of the other stores do.


The next project on the horizon is remodeling and expanding the Highland Park location. "It is our biggest-grossing, suburban store." The revamp will add an additional 8,000 square feet to what is a currently 30,000 square-foot space. The store has already proved itself to be a high earner, as one of handful of stores that are grossing more than half of the revenue of the flagship Marcy Street store.

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