Interacting with customers and helping them find exactly the bottle they’re looking for is ABC Store Manager Corrie Kimball’s favorite part of the job.
Kimball’s store on Pilot House Drive is one of the larger ABC stores in the area. She has worked there since the location opened in 2003, overseeing 13 staff members who are ready to help customers with whatever they need.
A recipe book is available if customers need help selecting ingredients for something they want to make. If they’re looking for a particular product that isn’t in the shop, staff can check a database to see if it’s available at another local ABC store.
Special orders can be done directly to the store. For example, if someone had a drink while traveling and wants that same drink at home, the ABC staff should be able to get it through their distributors, sometimes by the bottle or the case, depending on circumstances.
Locally made spirits have become more popular in recent years, according to Kimball.
“Most stores have a Made-in-Virginia section,” she says. “In my store, it’s a four-shelf section. We like to showcase these, and they sell well.”
Change is nonstop when it comes to running a Virginia ABC store, and that’s exactly why Christine Braund, manager at the nearby Oyster Point and Warwick location, enjoys it.
“The liquor business is constantly evolving,” Braund says. “The trends and what people are looking for are always changing. It keeps you on your toes. The products are constantly expanding and people are getting more and more creative. I learn new things from customers all the time.”
The team at Braund’s store includes 11 other staff members.
Virginia ABC consists of about 3,500 statewide employees. Braund has been working with the agency for 11 years and emphasizes safety, along with customer service, as its priority. She says all staff members are committed to ensuring every sale is a legal sale by scanning ID’s and being aware of potentially intoxicated customers.
“We’re not selling to people who shouldn’t be buying,” she says.
Virginia ABC also is the state’s leading revenue producer. Braund says the agency is a consistent contributor to the general fund and that sales percentages increase annually.
The top sellers at both the Pilot House and Oyster Point/Warwick stores are vodka and bourbon, according to Kimball and Braund.
“Specialty bourbon sales have especially picked up lately,” Kimball says. “It started with a specific brand a few years ago and then there was a waiting list and people couldn’t get it, so sales picked up on single barrels and small batch bourbons. There are also some local bourbons that are popular. “
Braund says they can always count on the “flavor of the minute” to sell well. This year the big trend was special edition flavored vodka.
“People were calling about it before we’d seen a box in the store,” she says. “We received three cases and sold them as fast as they got here.”
Popular vodka trends come and go, Kimball says.
“During summer,” she says, “ we sell a lot of the rums and pre-mix cocktails. It changes with the season.”
All calendar holidays result in spiked sales. However, Thanksgiving through the New Year is the busiest time of year for both stores. The managers prepare accordingly.
“We get in more products,” Braund says. “The trucks are bigger and the popular items are the gift sets. We start getting those in September.”
A misconception some people tend to have about working at an ABC Store is that the staff has tried everything on the shelves.
“We’ve sampled some of the minis when they come in, but there’s just too much,” Braund says. “Many think we’re all drinkers, but a lot of us don’t drink at all.”
When not at work, Braund, originally from Springfield, Virginia, can be found hanging out with her mom and her dog Greyson or going to the pool. Her passion is interior design, and she even has her own side business in the field.
She says she’ll make a drink occasionally, and when she does, she likes to keep things classic. Her all-time favorite? Gin and tonic.
Kimball says not a lot of people know that the Pilot House Drive location is a late hours store—not all of them are—and stays open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
She says she’s proud that her store services about 30 of the City Center area restaurants, keeping them stocked.
Born and raised in Carrollton, Kimball moved to Smithfield when she married in 1995 and has lived there ever since. She has a 24-year-old son and three daughters, ages 21, 18 and eight. The family enjoys outdoor vacations such as camping in the mountains or relaxing at the beach.
Kimball says she’ll enjoy a drink only on occasion—when she’s camping, for example. When she does,
she likes something light and refreshing, such as a cold pina colada or margarita.
TO THE POINT
Virginia ABC Stores
Address: 619 Pilot House Dr., Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Corrie Kimball
Address: 309 Oyster Point Rd., Ste. A, Newport News, VA 23602
Contact: Christine Braund