A reinvention of the corner store, hyper-local Hi-Lo Liquor is just the tonic for Culver City
The traditional liquor store has never held much appeal. A generally low-margin, commoditized business, the prevailing impression it offers is that of a dark labyrinth of long, narrow aisles with dusty, disorganized shelves and an indiscriminate approach to inventory. A place to run in and run out. Maybe leave the car running.
[cs_dropcap column_size=”1/1″ dropcap_style=”box” dropcap_size=”0″ dropcap_color=”#ffffff” dropcap_bg_color=”#d7df21″]Not so at Hi-Lo Liquor, which, at the end of 2016, became the new kid on the block in Culver City, upending the liquor store stereotype as a clean, well-curated, cleverly branded space designed by L.A.-based collective Project M Plus. Of modest size, the highly conceptualized store serves a spectrum of judiciously considered beer, wine and spirits, along with a miscellany of unique goods. Product sits high on shelves and is easy to see. The interior is unfussy and the storefront fun and Euro feeling. In effect, it’s the opposite of just about every other liquor store out there. Run in and run out? Unlikely. But still welcome.[/cs_dropcap]
Hi-Lo Liquor is a credit to its co-owners Chris Harris and Talmadge Lowe (founder of L.A.’s custom cocktail catering service Pharmacie). After having been approached about possibly overhauling another such neighborhood haunt in Highland Park, they took one look at the place and knew they could do better, launching Hi-Lo not long after. Bespoke retailing in a big-box world seems, at minimum, a gutsy move, but to Harris and Lowe, it simply made sense. The market was void of anything else even remotely like it. Plus, they’d considered just about everything else—a coffee shop and bar hybrid, a wine enterprise. Nothing hit like Hi-Lo.
“Every liquor store carries the exact same thing,” explains Harris. “So we thought, let’s carry an amazing selection of beer, an awesome selection of whiskey, and sell some great regional and local wines and really show people some interesting stuff, but in a local liquor store format that’s light, bright and friendly. Then, let’s have some fun tastings with vendors to pour some good beers and wine.”
Consumers come to Hi-Lo and get exactly that—a store somewhere in the middle. One finds some marble finishes, but also Downey-made Mulholland, an everyday American whiskey one can sip neat or use to mix drinks, a score at under $35 a bottle. There’s craft brews and tallboys too. The connoisseur to the construction worker—all are catered too, guided by knowledgeable staff. “That’s the concept,” explains Harris. “We don’t do a lot of high and we don’t do a lot of low. We didn’t want to go so high-end that we weren’t serving the neighborhood. We’re community based. But we also want to show people more interesting things, but without judgment. Just try it, you’ll like it.”
Now, having recently acquired its instructional license, Hi-Lo is elevating its drinking game with the aforementioned beer and wine tastings. Harris and Lowe also are looking to franchise the brand, bringing it to other cities beyond its current location, each in the spirit of its neighborhood.
Written by Jenn Thornton | Photography Courtesy of Hi-Lo, Ssteph Rrager (signage), and sShade Degges (books)