Feature story

New Hop Shop at Lewiston Tops brews up excitement



Interview with John DiMino, non-perishable manager at Lewiston Tops

Lewiston – Often when shoppers walk into a grocery store, they know what to expect, year in and year out. Stores may move product around, or be graced with a fresh new coat of paint every now and then. However, one local store refuses to simply par the course.

Tops Friendly Markets in Lewiston believes in evolving with the times, as evidenced by their recent improvements over the last few years, specifically the changes that were implemented in late-2015. Enclosed entrances, increased floor space, and new self-checkouts were just some of the changes. However, one change which has attracted the most attention, and promise for the future, is the store’s new beer set-up.

Located at 906 Center Street, the Tops location is family run, a feature that separates it from most other stores in the Tops chain. Operated by the DiMino family, Lewiston Tops has more freedom to implement new ideas and features than other Tops stores. The store’s beer section saw a total revamp, and recently added two features unseen in any other supermarket in the region, beer growlers and crowlers.

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“We added a very large walk in cooler, and added a growler system, which is the first of its kind in Western New York,” says John DiMino, non-perishable manager. John’s father, Anthony, is the owner of DiMino’s Lewiston Tops, operating the store founded by his father Alphonse in 1964.

“A growler is a glass jug or container, and a customer can come in and looks at a list of beers we have on tap, and we will fill their container, and they can go home with them,” says DiMino.

The selection of new beer growlers at Lewiston Tops

The growlers can be used multiple times, with customers bringing them back to be refilled. Coming in several sizes, some growlers sell for $4.00, with the large, German-style growlers priced at $35.00

“We also added a new machine, which is a canning machine for crowlers,” says DiMino. “Crowlers are 32-ounce cans, and it is the same concept as a growler, but the advantage is that keeping the beer in a can is a better way to keep the beer fresh. The beer lasts up to a month, whereas with a growler, you have maybe a week before you should drink it.”

The crowler uses aluminum cans, which come with the top off. Once the beer is poured from the taps, it is placed in a machine, which seals the top, allowing for a solid seal. In a 2014 article from Chicagotribune.com, journalist Josh Noel wrote of the benefits of crowlers. “The aluminum is more effective at blocking light (public enemy No. 1 for beer) and, provided it is filled correctly, oxygenation; they don’t need to be cleaned out like growlers and howlers; and for the consumer, the beer will keep far longer and is easier to transport,” said Noel.

The beer section has been christened the “Hop Shop,” with the Buffalo-based design team Luminus creating the markets’ logo. The beer section even has its own Facebook page, featuring an up-to-date menu of the beers of tap. The 10 craft beers on tap are displayed on a video board outside the cooler, with descriptions and prices. Once a customer has made a selection, a manager comes and fills their order.

Lewiston Tops’ “Hop Shop” logo, designed by Luminus

“Both these things (the growlers and crowlers) are very trendy, very new, for this area, and especially for a supermarket,” says DiMino. “It is the only supermarket in Western New York that offers a place for beer fills.”

DiMino states the only other place to get beer fills like those offered at Lewiston Tops is a Consumers Beverages or Premier Gourmet store.

“For the crowlers, the cans, no one other than one brewery, Resurgence Brewery in Buffalo, we have the only other machine in the area. It’s a very unique attribute that we have,” says DiMino.

The new beer crowlers at Lewiston Tops

According to DiMino, sales have steadily increased since the addition of the tap system. Also, the feedback from the customers has been mostly positive as well.

“It’s been very positive; I’ve heard nothing but compliments,” says DiMino. Our customers really love the layout of the whole store. The beer has been very big for us ever since we’ve done the remodel.”

“Watching what people are saying about it, I’d never thought we’d sell this much beer. Sales are up every week,” says Tony Purgarich, a manager at DiMino’s Lewiston Tops. “The growlers pick up in sales every week, and the crowlers have taken off already, and that’s without a lot of push or advertising.” Purgarich also expects the crowlers to sell especially well during events at Artpark, with customers opting to purchase the small cans and walk to the concerts.

The new walk-in cooler also increased in size substantially from the previous cooler. Now 25-by-25 feet, it features three rows of beer, both in packs and individual bottles, organized by variety.

“Some people that go out and may shop at a specialty beer store, they can count on us to have something that’s very unique for a supermarket, so they don’t have to drive out to Buffalo or Amherst,” says DiMino.

beer front
The front of Lewiston Tops’ new beer cooler

Lewiston Tops also hosts beer tastings throughout the year, exposing customers to new releases. Purgarich believes that if supermarkets were able to give away samples of beer themselves, something currently banned under New York State law, that the store’s beer section would succeed even more.

“If we could give a customer just a little Dixie Cup-sized sampling of beer to see if they like it, we’d get even more sales,” says Purgarich. “I think it might even double our beer sales. If New York State ever passed a law letting supermarkets sell wine, I think it would explode, and you’d see the next remodel on the building.”

When it comes to Lewiston Tops’ influence on other Tops stores, DiMino believes that the progress and success of their location could be used as a blueprint for other stores in the chain.

“I think that Tops corporate looks at us, and they see how successful we are,” says DiMino. “I think they take bits and pieces that we do and I would hope that they would use that to their advantage in their other stores.”

It is constant renovations like these at Tops in Lewiston that helps to ensure that the location will be a success both in the short term, and years down the road.

Interview with Tony Purgarich, manager at Lewiston Tops

Author: Adam Penale

My name is Adam Penale, and I graduated from Niagara University in 2017 with a degree in Communication Studies and a minor in history. In 2016, I interned with the Buffalo Bisons, where I wrote game summaries for Bisons.com. Baseball is my main interest, with a focus on the New York Yankees, baseball history and the 19th century, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Since July 2017, I have been a freelance writer for the Niagara Gazette.

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