I think I made my last trip to the Big Ten Party Store today.
For those outside of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti metroplex, let me explain: The Big Ten Party Store (which, under new management, has been renamed The Big Ten Market– I suspect this is part of the problem) is something of an institution. It’s a store on Packard in Ann Arbor that looks like the kind of place where undergraduates go to pick up kegs. But despite these outward appearances, it is actually a combination of a gourmet grocery, a wine shop, and a liquor store. We used to go there all the time because they have German breads and liquors you can’t find at a lot of other places around town, and because they have good prices.
Or they used to have good prices. I stopped in there today, on errands with Will. I was shopping for an undisclosed Christmas gift and I wanted to pick up a bottle of white wine. After looking around for a few minutes, I wasn’t really finding anything I wanted that was in my price range. A helpful Big Ten employee spotted me. “Can I help you select a wine?” she asked.
“Sure. I’m just looking for a chardonnay.”
“I see. Do you like a lot of oak with your chardonnay?”
“Uh, yeah.” And yes, I do understand the concept of “oaky” wine.
“And what’s your price range?”
“$10 or less.”
“Oh,” she said quietly, “I see.” She looked for a moment, at first said they didn’t have anything, but then she produced a California chard with a gaudy label. “I haven’t tried it yet, but our wine buyer always keep it in stock,” she said handing me the bottle.
I haven’t tried it yet either, by the way.
Now, I don’t know a whole lot about the marketing of wine, and I must admit to having only slightly above pedestrian tastes in it. In a store (as opposed to a restaurant, where I assume I’ll pay $20 for even a cheap bottle), a “normal” bottle of wine for me cost around $7; I will occasionally splurge and get something between $10 and $15; and I’m pretty sure I’ve never spent more than $20 for a bottle of wine in my life. Furthermore, while I have tasted wines that cost more than $20 a bottle, I can’t say that I found these wines twice as delicious as a $10 bottle.
In short, I’m a pretty simple wine drinker, and obviously, I am not the kind of customer that the new Big Ten is aiming to retain. I mean, why on earth would I go to a wine store where I can buy a grand total of one kind of wine for less than $10, especially when I can go to every other place that sells wine in this town and find a better selection in my price range? Furthermore, I know my prices well enough to know that they’re marking up stuff in there quite a bit. I saw wines on their shelves today that I know I’ve seen at World Market (a chain store that is kind of a Pier 1 imports that also sells foods, beers, and wine) and even the frequently over-priced Whole Foods for less. So why, I ask, would I go back there? Or, for that matter, why would anyone who knows enough about wine to know the price of it go back there?
And that’s another thing: the store itself kind of stinks, literally. I don’t know what it is, but there’s been some kind of mildewy, basement kind of smell in that place for at least the last year. I think it had to do with some remodeling they did, when the new management opened up a space that had been blocked off previously. Perhaps the old management had that section of the store blocked off on purpose. In any event, basement smelling skank is not the kind of thing to sell me on over-priced wines, beers, liquors, and foods.
Sorry, Big Ten.
Just to add insult to injury here, the $10 bottle of wine I was talking about? It was corked– eg, “bad,” turned sour, spoiled, etc. So now I have to go back there to get my money back from these guys. Jeesh.