How Legacy Wine Built A Modern Beverage Retail Store

Arkansas native David Bevans has always loved taking care of people. The co-owner of Legacy Wine and Spirits in Little Rock, Arkansas, remembers his childhood home as a gathering place. His father, now 78, is a well-known doctor in the area who loved to have cocktail and holiday parties. “I took cues from him on how to make people feel welcome,” says Bevans, who also spent decades managing bars and restaurants before breaking into the beverage retailing industry. “It’s something I’ve always been well adapted to.”

In January 2014, Bevans and co-owner Johnny Akins and first purchased a preexisting space in southwest Little Rock, after being friends for a decade and coworkers for eight of those years in, of all things, the dental office–management business. After securing a liquor license, however, the intent was to build a new store in the more affluent west end of town.

“We wanted more of a wine-based clientele,” Akins says, “so we spent a couple years in that store building distributor relationships and inventory, and learning the industry. A year later, we started the construction on Legacy.” Bevans and Akins opened the 11,000-square-foot space—conceived as a destination wine, spirits, and craft beer store—in 2015.

Feels Like Home

Local designer Gary Murtons helped them lay out the store, enhancing the ideas Akins and Bevans already had. Legacy’s advertising agent, Brooke Vines, says the store feels like “you’re having wine in somebody’s house,” with leather furniture providing seating in front of a modern decorative fire place, and a large table.

“I know couples who will drive out here for date nights and do the wine tasting on the way to their dinner and make it a part of their evening,” Vines says. While the space was designed to meet with brides, event planners and distributors,“it has turned out to be a great place to hold 30-minute wine, spirits, and beer classes,” says general manager Jimmy Hamilton. “At the table, we can offer themed tastings with three servings side-by-side. In my mind, that’s the best way to discern minor differences.”

Overhead throughout the store are crystal chandeliers, and most of the interior is filled with rich wood and iron. Shelving is stained birch wood, and there are lots of built-in features, such as the cigar humidor. Accent walls are cypress. Floors are painted concrete, and the lush lighting, Vines says, lends “a very eclectic, cozy and warm feel, with a touch of industrial.” Legacy customized all its displays without using any case stacks or commercial wine racks.

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Overhead throughout the store are crystal chandeliers, and most of the interior is filled with rich wood and iron.

Eliminating clutter in its merchandising is also a major part of maintaining the store’s aesthetic, Akins says. “Everything is merchandised on wooden shelves, like a department store,” he adds. “We don’t have cases of wine stacked throughout the store. There’s no cardboard on our floor.”

Low shelving (about chest-high for the average person) provides clean line of sight across the store and its more than 2,000 SKUs of spirits, 1,500 for beer and 3,000 for wine. A 3,500-square-foot mezzanine houses storage and offices, allowing Legacy to use every bit of its 8,500-square-foot sales floor.

The Chenal Valley part of west Little Rock, where Legacy is located, is an upscale pocket of about 14 neighborhoods. Chenal Country Club was established in 1990, and homes were built soon after.

“It’s been a golf course community in the making for 20 years,” Vines says. “These are very educated, well-traveled people with lots of expendable income. The store has really addressed a need; it has a very sophisticated audience.”

Building the Best Team

Among its 20 overall employees including management are a handful of highly certified and sought-after beer and wine experts. “We’ve learned a lot about hospitality and providing service to our customers,” Akins says. “That’s why we sought the staff we were looking for. We wanted to make sure we were the leaders.”

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Owners John Akins and David Bevans (seated), with the Legacy staff.

By what Atkins calls “a stroke of luck,” local sommelier Hamilton was in search of a job when Legacy opened. He had amassed his own following in the area. “We call them Jimmy’s Groupies,” Akins says of his general manager—and the first sommelier in the state of Arkansas. When Hamilton earned the title nine years ago, the term was just becoming popular.

“Weeks and weeks in France in Germany have directed a lot of my wine purchases and programs,” Hamilton says, adding that he lived a year in New Zealand and traveled in Australia as well. “When I came back, the New Zealand Savingnon Blanc craze was going on.” He also loves California, including Sonoma, Napa and the California central coast. “You learn something new every time you go out there,” he says.

Since joining the team at Legacy, he’s been singularly focused on developing a wine culture in his home state, and also provides education for restaurants in the area with Legacy’s blessing. Last year, Hamilton presided over the very first Court of Master Sommeliers introductory course and exam in Arkansas.

Legacy will soon send off about 10 staff members to get certifications in spirits after a spate of self-taught coursework. Atkins says the store budgets for employee education, believing it’s more than worth the investment. Hamilton, who has also logged 15 years in the bar and restaurant industries, says this investment in employees isn’t as common as he’d like it to be. “The guys here absolutely go out of their way to invest in their team,” he says.

Legacy is also extremely proud of its two cicerones, Slade Wright—who left a position in Houston to return to Little Rock and work at Legacy—and Jake Dell. There are only five cicerones statewide, and only Wright and Dell work in a retail store. They manage the beer inventory, growlers and craft beer “pick six” area with 200 beers to choose from. “They were a great fit for us,” Akins says, “so we hired both of them without hesitation.”

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