North Dakota might not be the first region that comes to mind when thinking of urban growth. But Hal Gershman, owner of the Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops in the cities of Grand Forks and Fargo, thought there was still plenty of room for his business to expand in his neck of the woods.
For those unaware, Happy Harry’s shops have for years been iconic beverage alcohol stores in the Upper Midwest – large format operations that serve not only local citizens, but also travelers on their way to vacation spots, and even Canadians who’ve come south for recreation and some shopping. Not only for the stores’ extensive selection of beer, wine, spirits, tobacco and other products, but – for first-timers especially – to check out the barn and silo prairie-style architecture that are the trademark look of three (now four) Happy Harry’s stores.
The chain’s last new store, its fourth, opened in 2000, (a lifetime ago in retail terms). For his fifth unit, Gershman and his team looked to the south side of Fargo, a growing area where available land allowed designers to expand on the other formats. Planning and execution took some time, but the shop, which joins two established Happy Harry’s stores in Fargo and two locations in Grand Forks, comprises 20,000 square feet of retail and office space. That makes it about 4,000 square feet larger than the next largest Happy Harry’s.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to grow,” Hal explains, “but we like to stick to our knitting and the markets we know. Fargo is growing down there, so we decided to put a store there to plan for the growth of the city. And we were right; business is even more robust than our pro forma showed.”
A Barn Behemoth
“We spent over a year designing and planning and are very excited to have our customers experience the atmosphere we’ve created. This is our largest store, yet has a very warm and comfortable feel,” says Harry’s general manager Dustin Mitzel. “We decided to build a bigger store and figure out how to make room for all the new and coming products, to display them right, how to prepare for the future and make the people love coming into the store – grabbing a coffee and spending 45 minutes just walking around.”
The prairie architecture barn-like format, built in homage to the region’s farming traditions, is impressive in size and concept, and has routinely won praise from locals and attracted travelers. Designers bumped it up a few notches in the new store, including what appears from outside to be a large, circular, silver grain bin.
“Our grain bin has attracted tremendous conversation,” Hal says. “We use it for meetings and will eventually develop a policy for others to do the same, since we have gotten so many requests. We will also use the space for private and limited tastings.”
“The barn and grain bin structure honors the rural, agricultural heritage of our region. Customers will be amazed at the open feeling and beauty of the building,” Steve Gehrtz, principal construction manager, Gehrtz Construction Services, told the local media upon opening last August.
That grain silo attracted a lot of attention at the grand opening, one attended by hundreds of visitors and shoppers, and it will be used for meetings and special events and offered on a limited basis to local institutions. Other features of the new store, which incorporates more than 11 miles of cedar and fir lining the interior walls: an electric car charging station that can accommodate two cars at the same time; a state-of-the-art growler station and wine-tasting station; a large parking lot suitable for summer trailer traffic; more than 100 trees planted after construction; and most notably, LED lighting in the store and on interior display shelves. On the floor? About $1 million in inventory at any one time.
Every shelf, including the many gondolas arrayed through the store, were planned and built with LED lighting above the bottles. “I think we might be the only store in the US to do that,” Gershman says, “It’s quite innovative and also really expensive to do – to put them on every shelf in the store but as a result there are no dark shadows anywhere on the shelves and the bottles really pop.”
In designing the store and confronting the cost of the shelf lighting, Gershman bit the bullet. “I know that some stores have put LED shelf lighting to highlight the higher-end packaging. But what I didn’t like about that, when we did a test highlighting a single area of the store, was that it diminished the rest of the store. It’s a much cleaner look when you highlight everything, otherwise some parts of the store would look pretty dull by comparison. That’s how effective these lights are.”
While the shelf lighting has had the most dramatic impact, similar to what can be seen in duty-free shops, the entire store has LED overhead dome lighting that gives a bright glow to the shopping floor. Gershman and company have been so pleased with the look they converted all the other stores to the same type of lights and fixtures earlier this year.
“We wanted the “wow” factor, and one of the things we do in all our designs is to create a pause space, an open space in the front where you can see the whole store, see exactly where you are and where you need to go, and are not immediately bombarded by displays,” Gershman says.