GM Sean Hallion and co-owner Dan Stevenson at the Columbus Boulevard store

GM Sean Hallion and co-owner Dan Stevenson at the Columbus Boulevard store

Danya Henninger

The Beer Peddlers’ mission to civilize buying booze in Philly

Reclaimed wood and a refined atmosphere greet visitors to the Columbus Boulevard joint, which soft-opened in December: “We’re definitely trying to convert the Miller Bud crowd.”

Stocking up for a party in Philadelphia just got a whole lot easier.

In almost any other state, picking up the wine, beer, booze, mixers and snacks needed for a group of guests is a one-trip affair: Pop into the grocery store and fill up a cart, or swing by a corner deli with a liquor store next door. Not so in Pennsylvania, where — thanks to Prohibition-era laws —it takes at least two or three separate stops to get all those supplies.

The Beer Peddlers, which soft-opened on Columbus Boulevard last December and will grand open in April, is aiming to change that.

Because while co-owners Dan Stevenson (a retired sergeant in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania Warrant Unit) and buddy Tom DiAntonio (the former owner of Society Hill Beverage) can’t actually amend the Pa. Liquor Code, they can bring one-stop-shopping much closer to reality. In other words, this not your average case store.

“From the start, we know we wanted this to be different from the norm,” says Stevenson. He and DiAntonio, lifelong friends who both live on S. 2nd St. (aka Mummers Ground Zero, Two Street), also “wanted to be part of the food and drink renaissance happening all over South Philly.”

The Beer Peddlers on Columbus Boulevard holds blowout sales when beer gets close to being out of date
Danya Henninger

Stevenson and DiAntonio’s first innovation was to locate their beer distributorship directly adjacent to a premium Fine Wine and Good Spirits store. They purposely incorporated a Keystone symbol into the Beer Peddlers logo, so people might subconsciously make the connection. The beer haven also keeps exactly the same hours as the wine shop, so there’s no worrying if both will be open at the same time.

Their second switch-up was to focus on selling 12-packs instead of just whole cases. This only recently became legal in March 2015, and many customers don’t even realize it’s a thing.

“Wait, are you a bottle shop?” asked a confused patron who stopped in for a look earlier this month as he gazed at the huge variety of beers shown on the mixed 12-packs on display. Many established distributors haven’t yet made changes to their layouts to show off the newly legal box size, Stevenson notes, where at Beer Peddlers they’re front and center, and make up a big portion of sales.

“Mixed 12s are huge for us,” he says. “What you pay at a bottle shop for a mixed six, you can come here and for $2 or $3 more, get a [pre-packaged] mixed 12 instead.”

Third was to realize people might want to buy juice, soda or fruit to mix with their spirits, and also snacks to pair with beer. Mixers like ginger beer are already in stock, and the rest of the goods needed to turn a shot party into a cocktail party should be in by the grand opening.

Not just beer: Mixers for cocktails are also sold

Not just beer: Mixers for cocktails are also sold

Danya Henninger

“I don’t know how many times I wished I could pick up a lemon or martini olives at the Wine & Spirits store,” Stevenson says.

Fourth — and this is a big one even though it’s just about atmosphere — they’re making the whole beer-buying experience less like the typical concrete-floors visit to a distributor’s garage, and more like swinging by a brewery tasting room.

If you’ve ever been tasked with picking up a case or two, you know what most of the warehouses are like. Cavernous, industrial spaces lit by flickering fluorescents, where the register is walled off behind bulletproof glass.

Not at Beer Peddlers, where the checkout area was fashioned from reclaimed wood by local woodworker Adam Mayer. The countertop is from a Camden bowling alley, the back wall and lattice is fashioned out of hemlock from a Germantown church, and all of the carts and display tables are made from beams from one old Fishtown house.

It makes for a welcoming feel, something that’s boosted by friendly customer service. Not only will staff members gladly carry your beer to your car (or bike basket) for you — a rarity at other distributors — they’ll also talk to you about beer and help you make informed purchases, or suggest things if you want to try something new.

Customers can taste a variety of beers on tap

Customers can taste a variety of beers on tap

Danya Henninger

Several beers are always available on tap for sampling in 4-ounce pours, and every Friday night, a different brewery rep comes through to host a guided tasting.

All this is coordinated by GM Sean Hallion, 31, who joined the team a month or so after doors opened. As one of the opening managers of Fishtown’s Barcade, he’s familiar with brew of all kinds, and he also spent six months as a rep for importing distributor Shangy’s.

“This place has a ton of potential,” Hallion says. “It has a neighborhood bar feel, but unlike a crowded bar, I actually get to have conversations with customers about beer.”

He says many people who stop in for standard domestics — still about half of sales — will end up choosing something craft brewed instead once they chat for a while or try a sample. “We’re definitely trying to convert the Miller Bud crowd.”

Right now, Beer Peddlers stocks around 200 different labels at any given time, but that number will continue to grow, especially after the grand opening party.

On that note, mark it down for Saturday, April 2 from noon to 2 pm. Throughout the afternoon, beer reps from Allagash, Weyerbacher, Brooklyn, Yards, Free Will, Firestone, River Horse and more will be sampling, live music will play and the Prime Stache food truck will be on site with food to go along.

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