The Southeast Valley is getting more options for low-price beer and wine: at dollar discount stores.
Several Dollar General and 99 Cents Only stores across the region either have applied for liquor licenses or have started selling alcohol.
“We want to be a convenient store,” said Manuel Becerra, district manager for 99 Cents Only. “You come to the store and you find everything you need.”
The change at Dollar General was based on customer demand, said Crystal Ghassemi, a company spokeswoman.
Dollar stores are small or midsize stores that offer a range of household products and food, typically at low prices, according to Nielson, a global information and measurement company that provides market research, insights and data about what people watch and what people buy.
Wine is sold at a discount, but more than a dollar, at 99 Cents Only stores because they buy in bulk, Becerra said.
“I preferred it for cooking as opposed to for drinking,” said Diane Carter of Tempe, who tried one of the $2.99 bottles of wine at the 99 Cents Only store in Tempe.
She was surprised to see wine at the store, and said it beats cooking with a more expensive bottle.
Wine at 99 Cents Only stores is among the few items sold for more than the store’s name suggests, Becerra said. The store considers itself a “deep discount” store as opposed to a dollar store. At Dollar General, only about 25 percent of the merchandise is priced under a dollar, Ghassemi said.
Both chains have been expanding beer and wine sales across the country.
The 99 Cents Only stores began selling beer and wine in 1983, shortly after the first store opened, spokeswoman Sarah Correa said. While one Mesa store obtained a liquor license in 2000 and another surrendered its license about a decade ago, the rest of the approximately 20 stores that applied for licenses did so this year, according to Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control data.
Chandler recently approved a liquor license for 99 Cents Only at Alma School and Warner roads, and for Dollar General at Ray Road and Arizona Avenue.
A liquor license for 99 Cents Only at Southern Avenue and Rural Road was approved by the Tempe City Council last March.
Six stores in Mesa and two in Gilbert have applied for or received a license.
They are among about 40 Dollar General and 99 Cents Only stores across the state that were granted liquor licenses in the past few months, according to the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. Another 30 stores have applications pending.
Hardware and even clothing stores now sell snacks at the checkout lane.
“What we’re seeing is, ‘Who really wants to be the inconvenient store?’ ” Lenard said. “Everyone is looking more and more like a convenience store.”
A customer might not go to a discount store intending to purchase beer and wine, but the shopper might grab it to save a trip to another store, he said.
“It seems like today that everybody wants to get a liquor license,” said Tim McCabe, president of the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, which does not include Dollar General or 99 Cents Only stores.
“This is a very competitive, cutthroat industry” in which retailers are battling over a limited amount of money spent on food and drinks, McCabe said.
“Anything that a retailer can do to sell something different ... they’re going to look at it.”
Dollar stores may have a challenge that other retailers that sell alcohol do not because they often are neighborhood stores, he said. Some communities have resisted the addition of alcohol to dollar-store shelves, according to news reports.
Dollar General, which sells beer and wine in about 40 percent of its stores, decides whether it is right for the individual store and community before seeking a liquor license, Ghassemi said.
Some customers disagree that selling alcohol was a positive move for 99 Cents Only on Alma School in Chandler.
“This is more of a family store, so I just don’t think they should,” said Larry Poston, 54, of Chandler.
But for Hoyt Crane of Chandler, the 99 Cents Only was closer and less busy than the grocery store down the street, making it more convenient.
Chandler City Councilman Kevin Hartke was apprehensive about granting a liquor license to the discount store, but he was won over after visiting it.
“To be honest, I have a vision in my mind of some dollar stores that are usually smaller, understaffed and not knowing what goes on there,” he said during a City Council study session. “I really saw this as a grocery-store outfit. If they’re going in that direction, I’m OK.”
Dollar General employees are trained to ask every customer for identification, even those who appear to be well beyond the drinking age, Ghassemi said.
“There’s no sale without an ID,” she said. “We’ve actually gotten a little blow-back from some (older) customers.”
Becerra says that the public should not be any more concerned about dollar stores selling alcohol than any other retailer.
“When you go to Safeway or you go to Fry’s, you see wine there. You really don’t get bothered by it,” he said. “We are really a grocery store that has very good prices.”