By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Joe Sterr was in the grocery business before deciding that Norman needed a larger retail liquor store and he was the guy to build it. In 1976 Sterr opened the Spirit Shop at Main St. and Berry Rd. on real estate that had once been a private residence with a nearby service station. He has been in operation there ever since and is now partners in the enterprise with his son Matthew Sterr. The Spirit Shop remodeled and expanded two decades ago but this year they have just completed an even grander renovation and updating of the entire structure inside and out.
“We needed the room,” Sterr said. “The store was getting to the point that it was so full of merchandise that you couldn’t turn around.”
The difference is dramatic. Once-narrow crowded aisles have been replaced by spacious walkways and attractively displayed shelves of merchandise. Inventory essentially hasn’t increased, it’s just spread out over more territory.
“We started out with 4,800 square feet and have not quite doubled the floor space,” Sterr said.
Norman’s Barret L. Williamson Architects was chosen to design the new structure with senior architect Alan Moring presiding. “They drew up plans and got everything approved by the city,” Sterr said. “I want to salute the city because they were so much easier to work with now than they were 20 years ago.”
Norman was quick to send code enforcement inspectors out and didn’t overly complicate the regulatory process. Red Sun Construction Co. Inc. of Norman was the building contractor. Work began in Sept. 2012 and the finishing touches are being wrapped up now. The retail business remained open throughout the process.
“First thing Red Sun did was break out the old parking lot,” Sterr said. “Then they poured the slab for the new portion of the store.”
New exterior wall blocks have an attractive natural stone appearance. An interior supporting wall came down before new drywall and paint went in. No pipefitting had to be done but quite a bit of new electrical Romex cable was installed. A pair of automatic sliding glass entrance doors opens to a vestibule and then the store proper. Extra insulation was added throughout for energy efficiency. Parking spaces were tripled. The wine tasting room, which is a separate premises from the retail area but at the same location, was also tripled in size.
The new Spirit Shop’s crown jewel is the massive Cor-Ten steel sign out front facing northwest.
“That was Alan Moring’s idea,” Sterr said.
Cor-Ten is a group of steel alloys that were developed to eliminate the need for painting, and form a stable rust-like appearance when exposed to the weather for several years. The metal is often used for outdoor sculptures such as the immense Chicago Picasso piece in Daley Plaza. “We’ll be installing LED lighting behind it which should be visible from outer space, the Great Wall of China or at least the corner of Main and Berry,” Sterr said.
The operation is also adding a new Point of Sale check out system.
“It enhances speed of check out and inventory control,” Sterr said. “But easier access to product will be the main improvement our customers notice in the new shop. We have more storage area too making it even less likely that we run out of anything.”
Although inventory hasn’t increased fundamentally, product packaging has changed in the form of some beer brands being available in 12-packs that weren’t before. More wine choices are anticipated as new shelving goes up.
“Wine sales have increased tremendously since 1976,” Sterr said. “It’s the bulk of what we do, along with beer.” Unlike in years past, if the product doesn’t have a pleasing flavor today’s consumers won’t stick with it. “We still stock Boone’s Farm wines though,” he said. “But not Ripple.”
A few mammoth California wine distributors now share the market with vineyards from around the globe.
“We have wine from everywhere,” Sterr said. “Customers come in with some fairly esoteric requests and by and large we can get them what they want. Sometimes it takes awhile for our distributor to get it because of the brokerage process.”
The Spirit Shop can provide you with everything from a 50-cent airline-size bottle of McCormick’s vodka distilled in Weston, Mo. to a 2005 vintage French Bordeaux wine bottled by Chateau Haut Brionat $1,300.
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