Sydney loses another independent wine shop

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The trend towards the concentration of retailing power in the hands of the few continues, with leading Sydney independent wine shop Cremorne Cellars being sold to the Camperdown Cellars group.

It could be worse, of course: the shop could have gone to Woolworths or Coles. Manager Steve Blandford, who has been retailing fine wine in Sydney for over 20 years, finds his future is up in the air. Vendor Michael Loth plans to keep his two other shops, Annandale Cellars and Northbridge Cellars, however. He owns the freehold at Northbridge, but not the other two. Annandale Cellars would be a good one to keep, as it finds itself amid a thriving, and growing, precinct with increasing numbers of lifestyle shops and restaurants attracting lots of people. It should have ample potential to grow its business.

There is nothing wrong with the way Vintage Cellars and Dan Murphy’s run their shops: they are good stores, nicely set up and offering a good range. But too much of anything is bad, and market dominance of the duopoly is a bad thing. But the horse has well and truly bolted with Coles and Woolworths. Their shares of the alcohol market should have been limited long ago by the regulator. But it’s too late now. With Cremorne Cellars set to become another Camperdown Cellars at the end of this month, I suspect Sydney will lose yet another independent store, a store which has offered an alternative to the mainstream. Camperdown Cellars stores also do a fine job, but the style of the Cremorne shop will undoubtedly change.

Steve Blandford (pictured above) has been in wine retailing for 23 years. He had about 10 years at Avenue Road Cellars, Mosman, then a stint in the Woolworths national office, and then Cremorne, where he’s been for more than seven years, building up a strong and loyal clientele by offering a very diverse range of wines, local and imported, and specializing in Italian and Champagne. He’s supported the small and artisanal producers, and kept a strong emphasis on a very personalised level of service and advice. Wine retailing needs more people like him, not fewer.

In other retail news, Coles Liquor has jettisoned the three most wine-knowledgeable people in its head office, including head buyer Grant Ramage. The stories we repeatedly hear coming out of Coles and Woolworths do nothing to dispel the impression that for them, retailing wine has more to do with cutting costs to maximize profit than quality concerns or product knowledge. Very sad. 

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