On a bright and humid Wednesday afternoon, 29-year-old Joe Mackay, his brother, Cliff and their friend Jess Pro walk into Ardmore Plaza's newest addition, The Beer Shoppe, to peruse the endless selections of beer before they enjoy their cold beverages of choice while they sit along the gray and wooden-lined counter tops and stools in the back of the store.
"I came here for the first time last week," Mackay, an Ardmore resident, said. "This is my fourth time here now."
Three months after it first began construction and the transfer of a liquor license from a Norristown restaurant, The Beer Shoppe is now a reality.
The 2,700-square-foot store, owned and operated by Pennsylvania and New Jersey restaurant business owner Peter Vitale, has garnered loyalty with a fair share of residents like Mackay since it's opening the first weekend in May because Vitale was true to his concept – a place from which local, passionate beer drinkers can choose from more than 500 brews, the option to sample those brews in the store and build their own six pack instead of paying close to $100 for a case of beer they may later discover wasn't for them.
A month after its opening, the Shoppe is having its grand opening this Saturday, June 2, when customers will be able to receive a 10 percent discount off their total purchase.
"We were originally thinking Memorial Day weekend," the 59-year-old business owner said. "We just didn't want to miss people who would be out of town."
Even a couple days before Memorial Day weekend, The Beer Shoppe boomed with business. In less than two hours, more than 20 shoppers walked in and out of the glass door entrance with their purchases, or took to the back bar area to sample their beverages or try the beers on tap.
Vitale attributes this to not just the varied beers available at the Shoppe, but also because of the beer knowledge he and staff like store manager Paul Kreszwick bring to the table.
"People come here also for the help, the extra knowledge and customer one-on-one" available when customers seek advice on beer selection, Vitale said. "And with the Wine and Spirits store in the same shopping center, it's two visits in one. Because of parking in the area, customers can pull their cars up and we'll help them put their purchases right in the car."
When The Beer Shoppe's liquor license went before the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners on Jan. 14, the board expressed a few concerns that led to amendments or conditions to the transfer.
Commissioner Steven Lindner, whose Ward 4 is in the vicinity of the shop, was concerned what would happen if an individual left the store, since customers are able to buy and drink a bottle of beer on the premises, and leave with their purchases. Lindner and the residents of his ward worried drinkers would take their beers to nearby Vernon Young Park.
Besides potential customer unlawfulness, the board's only other concerns were the Shoppe's hours of operations and that it wouldn't sell alcoholic caffeinated beverages like Four Loko.
The Beer Shoppe couldn't sell Four Loko, given the Nov. 2010 U.S. Food and Drug Administration's findings that proved alcoholic caffeinated beverages were not safe. The FDA issued warning letter to the four companies manufacturing such drinks, including Four Loko, which eventually led to the banning of caffeine in the ingredients.
The store's hours are Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
As for the concern of customer unlawfulness, Vitale reiterated a response he made months ago, that anything is possible if someone wants to break the law, but that The Beer Shoppe discourages such behavior. Vitale, who has more than 40 years in food business, added that The Beer Shoppe is "a very family friendly environment, with parents able to sit down at the counter in the back with their kids and enjoy a hot dog while watching a sports game on the flat screen."
Lindner did not respond to requests for comments. In an e-mail to Neighbors, Board President Liz Rogan said she has not stopped in The Beer Shoppe yet and also hasn't hear of any complaints.
Those entering The Beer Shoppe are immediately greeted by an assortment of cigars, artisan cheeses, meats, olives and spreads, as well as a fridge full of soft beverages like Coca-Cola and Sprite for those seeking non-alcoholic beverages or mixers.
Beyond that lies the store's plethora of beers lining the cream-colored walls. The sky is the limit for beer connoisseurs – customers can buy domestics, imported, craft and specialty beers.
Customers get the familiar brands like Blue Moon, Corona, Coors Light and Yuengling, if they so choose, but if they have an itch for something they can't always get at the typical corner store or local pub, they can buy Sea Dog's fruit-flavored ales, a Belgian beer like Hoegaarden, brands like Dogfish Head or go with any of the numerous India Pale Ale beers.
"IPA is very popular," Kreszwick said. "German wheat beers, Belgians, Lambic-flavored beers...we have a wide variety."
The store's also friendly to those with gluten allergies, carrying multiple selections of hard cider like Wood Chuck and Strongbow. Kreszwick said the Shoppe will carry even more gluten-free options in the near future.
Customers who head toward the back of the bar can enjoy a Chicago-style Vienna beef hotdog and a selection of beers on tap, or simply sit there and enjoy the beer they purchase or sample.
Joe Mackay's 24-year-old brother Cliff Mackay enjoyed a Sea Dog and India Pale Ale for his first visit. An avid beer cap collector, Cliff laid out four different caps he collected from the beers he, Joe and Pro had in the last half-hour.
"It's the first time I've collected these caps," Cliff Mackay said as he, his brother and Pro sat at the counter top.
Pro, 22, of Bryn Mawr sipped her bottle of Ace Premium pear cider and said it was also her first visit to The Beer Shoppe.
"It's the first time I had it," Pro said as she pointed to the bottled cider. "It's different, it's good. With all the different beverages they sell, I think this place is going to be very successful."