More or Less Non-Alcoholic Store Brings Inclusivity to Grand Rapids Consumers
| 6 min read
Opening a non-alcoholic retail store is a risk, but Chad Clark and Neil DeMeester wouldn’t have taken that risk without confidence in the demand.
More or Less – formerly known as Alt City NA Bottles and Beer – opened at the turn of 2023 in Grand Rapids as a fully N/A “liquor” store. Clark and DeMeester both quit drinking in recent years and developed an affinity for N/A products, so much so that they viewed a budding business as a “passion project.” But that doesn’t mean they thought they were throwing dollars into the wind by launching it.
“I think initially, we kind of wanted something for ourselves,” Clark said. “We knew of people in our lives who were avoiding alcohol, too.”
Prior to co-owning More or Less, Clark dabbled in N/A product retail at his first business, Alt City, a downtown Grand Rapids food and drink market. That’s also where he met DeMeester, who had become a regular customer.
“Over the course of several years at my downtown market, I really started to see the demand for N/A stuff grow,” Clark said. “Then once COVID hit, that was a big driver of this N/A movement for people.”
“Any time you’re opening a retail business with more of a niche following, it can be difficult to anticipate where it’s going and what the demand is, but at the same time we felt like there was the demand,” DeMeester added. “As we’re seeing these stores start to pop up – especially along the coast – we realized there are people out there that want this. It’s just a matter of, how do we connect with them? We felt like if we could reach customers and connect with our community, that would mitigate the risk, long term.”
Personally, Clark was a daily alcohol drinker for a while. He certainly wasn’t the only one to do this, but Clark said he leaned on alcohol a little too often during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting him to recuse from the booze for a full month. That month turned into two, two turned into three, three turned six, and three years later, it’s not a part of Clark’s life anymore. DeMeester is also a former drinker, having quit the habit nine years ago. Bonded by their shared lifestyle choice and now their new business, the entrepreneurs were eager to present a whole store full of options to the growing demographic of sober curious customers.
The challenges and rewards of opening an N/A retail store in Grand Rapids
DeMester and Clark figured it’d be tough to source enough N/A products to fill out a whole shop; most producers of N/A companies are in their infancy, just like More or Less is as a retailer. Sourcing has been one of many unique obstacles placed in front of two business owners trying to run a brick-and-mortar store full of zero-proof products.
“Most of the people that are making these products are small and family owned. There are a lot of breweries that are dipping their toe in. But as far as large-scale distribution there’s not a ton of that yet, so a lot of our supply comes from people essentially shipping us packages,” DeMeester said. “And we still have to have our licensure through the state licensing to sell N/A beer. And that’s kind of a weird technicality in the law that says you still have to have a license for beer that doesn’t have to have alcohol in it. So, with some of the complexity of these issues, it’s definitely more intensive than just your run-of-the-mill retail operation.”
More or Less sells more than 400 N/A spirits, beers, wines, and other N/A beverages, after sampling close to 1,500 products. Since day one they held themselves to a higher standard. They were never going to sacrifice quality for quantity.
“There’s a lot of people that see this idea trending and just throw something out there,” DeMeester said. “Quite frankly, there’s a big chunk of the stuff out on the market right now that isn’t great. We’re looking to only carry a really curated selection of stuff that we didn’t believe in.”
The customer base is largely responsible for setting that standard.
“A lot of the community doesn’t want to just jump in online and buy something and spend a ton of money on it if they don’t know whether it’s going to be good or not,” DeMeester added. “So, what we do is offer a rotating selection of typically six to 10 bottles of products that guests can try and taste at the shop. Customers love that, that’s definitely a way to interact with the community.”
Built on Inclusivity: Grand Rapids responds positively to the concept
When businesses in the N/A industry use the term “inclusive” they use it to describe the clientele and the nature of their relationship with alcohol. Inclusive means you don’t have to be a strict non-drinker to come into their store and buy a bottle of zero-proof whisky.
More or Less prides itself on offering an interactive, collaborative experience to its customers. It doesn’t matter why you’re not drinking that day, that week, that month or anymore in general. DeMeester and Clark want to send you home with a tasty product that’s best suited for your situation.
“Alcohol is super weird because it’s the one thing you have to justify not using,” DeMeester said. “I think probably more than 50% of the customers that come to our store still do drink. Whether they’re taking a break because they’re taking a medicine that doesn’t allow them to drink for a certain amount of time, or they’re trying Dry January or Sober October, or they’re giving it up for the week or giving it up for Lent, for religious reasons, there’s just a ton of reasons. And we’re not looking to cater to people who are strictly sober, or sober for any length of time.
“If it’s picking up a bottle for a gathering because your brother doesn’t drink, or you’re picking up some functional beverages because you want to have something relaxing at night during the week without drinking a bunch of calories,” DeMeester said. “That’s been our goal from the beginning, especially with this rebrand, is to be 100% inclusive. We’re for people that haven’t drank ever and people who just aren’t drinking for that night.”
There’s not a ton of data for Clark and DeMeester to glean from to determine how successful they’ve been by the numbers. But they did just sign a long-term lease extension on their property at 434 Leonard St. Northwest in Grand Rapids, so they’re not going anywhere. What they can and have gleaned from to indicate success is the blossoming relationship they have with their regular customers. They’re confident they’ll generate a lot of new regular customers soon, too.
“One of my favorite things at the shop is hearing people come back and tell me how much they appreciate having the options,” Clark said. “Whether they’re completely sober or not, I hear that and it doesn’t get old. I hear it on a weekly basis. People are just supper appreciative to feel included, and it’s awesome.”
Photo credit: Jessica Simons Photographyfirstname.lastname@example.org
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