BY MICHAEL ELLIS
You’ve driven past the iconic neon sign a thousand times, and chances are you’ve been inside the walls of Bonnie Brae Liquor. But big changes often happen in a quiet way. Under new ownership, Bruce Gallagher, Annie Bachman and Dane Harbaugh are embracing the neighborhood they grew up in with open arms and a mission to build community.
Bonnie Brae Liquor has been a fixture in the neighborhood for over two decades. Can you tell us a bit about how you three Denver locals came into this role as new owners? What were you all doing before this?
We all come from different backgrounds each with our own strengths and talents. Dane came from commercial real estate and finance, Annie from residential real estate and nutritional science, and Bruce came from the food and hospitality business. We have been lifelong friends and always known that we wanted to work together, yet we never quite knew what shape or form that would eventually present itself. Bruce always tells people he knows three things intimately well: food, booze, and people. He wanted to find a way to merge his strengths in a way that he could have ownership in the business and be part of a community that he was passionate about. Several months of soul-searching landed Bruce with the idea of purchasing a liquor store. It was the perfect blend of his strengths in management and hospitality. Dane and Annie immediately saw the potential and the search began.
Community is huge in this neighborhood and we feel a strong sense of family when we come into the shop. What changes can old customers expect when they come in?
The first and most noticeable change is the commitment to hospitality and respect that our staff has for all of our wonderful clientele. We want everyone who walks through our doors to feel welcome and appreciated as we are well aware of the plethora of options that exist when it comes to purchasing alcohol.
The second change is that prices are down to where they should be. Despite being your local shop, we feel we can compete with many of the larger players in the market. For years, everything was grossly overpriced due to the store’s convenience. We want Bonnie Brae Liquor to be everyone’s go-to liquor store, thus we’ve reduced prices on over 1500 items.
Last but not least, we have increased the selection and have increased inventory levels back to where they need to be to best serve our patrons. When you come into Bonnie Brae Liquor you should expect to be greeted graciously every time, have fully stocked shelves and to pay competitive pricing.
Between Xander and Bruce we want customers to be able to come in and get what they want along with expert advice. It is important for us to make sure whether someone wants to spend $12 or $100 on a bottle they will be guided with great information, and respect to help them ultimately find a bottle they love. Wine is a fascinating and complex world, but we are here to make sure no one is overwhelmed by it. There are a ton of choices available and we’ll help everyone learn something and walk out confident with their selection. When we brought Xander in, it was so Bonnie Brae would have someone with great knowledge of wine to help customers coming home from work, going to happy hour, or out to dinner with friends find what they need and be on their way. He’s the kind of guy that loves to share his passion for wine and spirits with anyone that is interested and will make sure you leave with whatever you’re looking for and maybe something you never knew existed.
You’ve collaborated with Bonnie Brae Ice Cream and The Truffle Cheese Shop on 6th. We understand the importance of forming thoughtful connections with small businesses. This strong sense of supporting local seems to be a solid thread to your mission. Can you tell us more about this?
Community is everything. We believe that we all either succeed together or fail together. Especially in these incredibly difficult and trying times we need to be there to help lift each other up and support one another. There is no better way to help lift up and support our neighboring small businesses than giving them a platform to distribute their fine products to the greater Denver area through our delivery program. Customers can have all three companies’ wonderful products delivered in one service, to so many individuals that wouldn’t necessarily make the trip to our neighborhood. Both collaborations were no brainers. What could be better than being able to deliver two of alcohol’s best pairings in life, cheese and ice cream! Good for us, good for them, and good for our community.
The non-alcoholic category is seeing change and growth more and more. We currently offer many beer options as well as some wine options. The spirits and wine industries are really putting emphasis on the categories, and the evolving technology is allowing them to make better and better products. The hardest challenge that we have found is attaining great tastes and profiles while removing the alcohol content. We believe that we should really see some changes in the coming years with the focus on this aspect of the industry.
As Denver natives, how do you see this neighborhood evolving?
Neighborhoods are changing and evolving all-across the state, and we are so grateful to land in a neighborhood that is changing but has shown its commitment to local feel and small business. We know there are some larger developments in the works, but we are grateful that our landlords are passionate about their community and plan to hold the buildings for generations to come. They, too, want the liquor store to remain an instrumental part of the neighborhood feel as it has been for the last decades regardless of the development in the area. We know the neighborhood is continuing to transition, but families, old and new, continue to shop local and support small business. The neighbors have shown that they love their local restaurants, ice cream shops, and liquor stores. It is now up to us to provide what they expect and deserve in the community.
When you’re not in the shop, how do you spend your free time?
When we’re all not in the shop we enjoy all that Colorado has to offer us. All of us have lived across the country and found our way back home. Bruce enjoys spending time with his wife, kids, and golden retriever, Piper. They love the mountains, back yard gatherings, the fourth of July and skiing. Dane enjoys spending his time with his young family and loving golden retriever. They love the mountains, traveling, and skiing as well. Dane has always been passionate about kids, particularly focusing on outdoor education as well as natural resource conservation. Annie spends her free time with her bearded mutt Winston, coaching high school volleyball, traveling, volunteering time with her mentee from the Challenge Foundation, and running her nutritional therapy business. All of us love to cook and explore the world of fine cuisine and beverages.
Do you have anything exciting on the horizon?
So many things have changed since we bought the liquor store and many plans got put on hold due to the times we are living in. We are starting work on a remodel of the front of the shop to make the entrance flow more naturally to enhance the customer experience. We are also in conversations with our landlords and the great local artist, Duke Beardsley, to paint a beautiful mural on the North side of the building in the parking lot. Duke grew up in the neighborhood and we’re excited for him to leave his artistic mark on his old stomping grounds. We are thrilled to bring these changes to the neighborhood, helping spruce up the liquor store and overall experience inside. We want to bring fun and instrumental changes to the shop that set us apart and make the community proud to have us as neighbors. Our initial priorities were reinvesting in our commitment to first rate hospitality, selection, and competitive pricing. Now that we have our feet under us, we can begin to work on some of the physical changes we all believe are needed to spruce things up. There are fundamental shifts going on in the Colorado liquor store industry and we hope that our commitment to community, quality, price, and fun can set us apart from the big box and national competitors that continue to enter the Colorado market and threaten to push out the locally-owned shops. After all is said and done, we’re thankful to be part of the community that we love.
Thank you for sharing the back story to this passion project and for taking the time to include us in on your plans. We agree that communities thrive when you support local, and we are excited to see Bonnie Brae Liquor keep this beloved block on the map.