Elemental Spirits Co., located at the prominent corner of N. Highland and North avenues, in Poncey-Highland, opened just two weeks before coronavirus closed the city. Lucky for owner Cory Atkinson, liquor stores were deemed “essential” businesses and allowed to stay open, which meant there was an opportunity to connect with the neighborhood going into lockdown mode for the foreseeable future.
“It’s been very interesting,” Atkinson said ruefully. “We had some good momentum going those first couple of weeks, then things just got crazy.”
Atkinson said his first priority was keeping both his employees and customers safe, so he instituted social distancing at the store by allowing only a handful of customers in at a time to pick up the orders they’d made via email or Instagram message.
Thanks to social media and foot traffic, Elemental Spirits is continuing to see steady growth. Atkinson said the next challenge would be readjusting once normalcy returns, and what the “new normal” will look like for small businesses.
Atkinson, who had a successful career in e-commerce, dreamed of opening Elemental Spirts for more than a year. During his daily walks with wife, Malory, they would pass the vacant storefront that was once part of Manuel’s Tavern and question why it had stood empty for so long.
“I tried to get a meeting with Selig [the owners of the building], but they wouldn’t take my calls,” Atkinson said. “My property broker looked at a number of spaces, but the Manuel’s Tavern space was still in the back of my mind. I challenged my brokers to get a foot in the door with Selig. They did and here we are.”
The 2,000 square foot shop is definitely not your average package or liquor store, most of which Atkinson said he finds depressing. “I personally hated the liquor store experience, but I had been to great ones in New York, San Francisco, Paris, and Tokyo and saw the possibilities of opening a boutique bottle shop,” he said. “I wanted to create a different shopping experience entirely – more curated like a high-end wine shop with browsable wide aisles, light and bright. When quarantine ends, we want customers to come in and explore, talk to the staff, and discover new things.”
Elemental offers small-batch craft spirits, natural and low-intervention wines, local craft beer, vintage barware, and more Atkinson said he’s been in conversation with Manuel’s Tavern and other local restaurants about holding tastings and educational events. He eventually wants to offer “tasting tours” to vineyards and distilleries both here and abroad.
In the meantime, Atkinson said he’s looking forward to hosting a delayed grand opening for Elemental Sprits and to have customers back in the shop browsing and talking with the staff.
“We’re getting great feedback and have plenty of repeat business now, with customers wanting us to curate a six pack of wine, recommend a great tequila, and suggest wine pairings,” Atkinson said. “We just can’t to get our doors open and have those customers in the shop.”