Why Exit 9 Liquors is a Top 100 Retailer

exit 9 liquors top 100 Founder Owner Mark O'Callaghan new york
Exit 9 Liquors Founder and Owner Mark O'Callaghan.

Exit 9 Liquors in Clifton Park, NY — 20 minutes northwest of Albany — was born out of a vision of a better liquor store.

Founder and Owner Mark O’Callaghan has been in the alcohol industry since 1989, when he was a bartender in his early 20s. “A Budweiser manager told me that I have the gift for gab, so how’d I like to work selling Bud?” O’Callaghan recalls. “What young kid isn’t going to like that?”

Three years at a Budweiser distributor on Staten Island led to an opportunity with a Gallo distributor in upstate New York.

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“My wife had friends in Albany, so we ended up settling there, thinking it would be a few years, in and out,” O’Callaghan remembers. “We moved in the winter. It was horrible. So much snow! But then summer came around and it’s so beautiful up here that time of the year, and we knew we’d be pitching our tent here.”

O’Callaghan rose up the Gallo ranks, training salespeople and traveling to stores nationwide. In his local Albany region, he noticed a need. Liquor stores were either boutique but lacking selection, or large but lacking customer service.

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“We did not have the big, all-for-one store,” he says.

After getting his financing in order, O’Callaghan applied for his liquor license. This was supposed to be officialized through New York government channels on Sept. 12, 2001. Due to the national tragedy that rocked the world the day before, Exit 9 Liquors delayed opening until Dec. 1 of that year.

“We were successful right off the bat,” O’Callaghan says. “By 2002, we were the largest-volume store in the district.”

That original location was 10,000 square feet. Within four years, Exit 9 needed a larger layout, and moved into a spot three times the size. The Great Recession arrived four years after, taking out a large retail chain nearby, emptying a 37,000-square-foot store. To fill this enormous space, Exit 9’s landlord gave O’Callaghan a great deal on where the Top 100 retailer now calls home.

Walk into Exit 9, and you will notice several unique aspects immediately. This includes the sheer size, coupled with an impressive orderliness and cleanliness.

“For the layout, I have to tip my hat to Gallo,” O’Callaghan says. “All my years there, setting shelves and merchandising, all the training I received and then gave to others.”

“As for the cleanliness, that’s a huge investment,” he adds. “Once a year we have the floors completely redone. We give them a good buff every other week. And the staff started a tradition during the slower month of January of cleaning every single shelf.”

Another noteworthy characteristic of Exit 9 is the baby grand piano out on the floor.

“When we first opened, I had $400,000 in merchandise for a 10,000 square-foot-store,” O’Callaghan remembers. “I thought, ‘How am I going to make this store look full?’ I was walking around a mall and saw a piano on display, advertising a store in the mall. I asked the store owner whether he would want to have a similar advertising display in my store, with wine all around it. He said yes, and that display helped him sell six pianos. So many people, especially kids, when they come into our store, they want to see the piano.”

O’Callaghan has since purchased the instrument outright.

The business boasts a 40-person classroom that sees frequent use. In addition to regular tastings from outside vendors, Exit 9 employees host classes once or twice a month throughout the year. “These are always full,” O’Callaghan says. “It helps set us apart.”

Perhaps most noticeable about Exit 9 is the engaged, friendly, helpful staff.

“From day one, we were the only one in our market with matching uniforms,” O’Callaghan says. “It’s a big place, but it’s always easy to find someone wearing a green Exit 9 uniform. That’s the number one comment I get from customers: how much they like our staff.”

“We have such great staff,” he adds. “It’s a lot of family. I have a son and two sons-in-law who work for me. So does my brother-in-law and my nephew. Nearly every niece and nephew of mine has worked here at some point. Who knows? My oldest grandson, he’s turning twelve years old. Six more years, maybe he’ll be working here too.”

This feature is part of our Top 100 Retailers program. Winners in our annual Top 100 program were announced during the 2023 Beverage Alcohol Retailers Conference. Other Top 100 winners include our 2023 Retailer of the Year: Macadoodles.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com. Read his recent piece, Vodka Trends in 2023.

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