Plaza liquors

Irene Djambinov, of Ventnor, owns of Plaza Discount Liquors, which is known for hard-to-find wines and trendy stuff such as craft bourbon and rye. The store this year moved across the street to the Wellington Plaza in Ventnor Heights.

Edward Lea

A move across the street this year gave Plaza Discount Liquors a surprise benefit.

After 35 years in the Ventnor Plaza shopping center in Ventnor Heights, the Djambinov sisters bought into a newer, larger space across Wellington Avenue.

Working with Atlantic City-based architect Thomas Sykes, the sisters redesigned the building, put on several additions, and created a larger, completely new liquor store, said Shirley Djambinov, of Ventnor.

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The new location was better in many ways — access, visibility, attractiveness — and one way that was crucial when Hurricane Sandy arrived.

“This location is higher. We weren’t directly impacted by the storm and didn’t have any flooding,” she said. “We would definitely have flooded in the old location. The entire Ventnor Plaza was flooded and every single store in that shopping center had water damage. We were very fortunate and are very grateful.”

Dodging the storm was helpful, but Plaza Discount Liquors, like nearly every other business in the region, still must deal with the larger challenge of the five-year economic downturn and the struggling casino industry.

“We’re dependent on the casinos as the major employer in the area. When people aren’t working and getting a paycheck, that has an impact on our business,” Djambinov said. “We’re fortunate to have a loyal following.”

One way the store competes is by offering an extensive selection of wines and finding unusual and specialty bottles for customers.

Shirley Djambinov said she and her sister, Irene, were drawn into the business after college by a desire to learn about wines, traveling to major producing regions in Spain, Italy, Germany and California.

That and three decades in the business inform their wine offerings and help them track down particular bottles.

“I recently had a gentleman looking for a nice Barolo,” said Irene Djambinov, also of Ventnor. “One vintage was very highly rated and I was able to locate it for him. He wanted to use it as a gift for his brother-in-law and had tried a couple of different places looking for it.”

A newer focus at Plaza Discount Liquors is the craft and specialty whiskey trend.

“The whiskey segment had been dying and now is being revived with craft and small-batch bourbons and ryes,” Shirley Djambinov said.

Irene Djambinov said examples of choice and exotic spirits include Death’s Door White Whiskey from Wisconsin, and Bulleit bourbon and rye whiskies.

“People are maybe drinking a little less but drinking better,” she said.

The other essential for local liquor stores these days is staying affordable for customers.

“With the economy the way it’s been, we’re very price conscious,” Shirley Djambinov said. “We discount across the board and we also have sales. It’s gotten to be a more competitive industry.”

Some of that competition is from new liquor stores developed by builders looking to diversify after the real estate downturn. Plaza Discount Liquors itself was acquired by George Djambinov during the mid-1970s downturn and he was in construction and real estate, said daughter Shirley.

Since the severe recession in 2008, the number of liquor stores in Atlantic County has risen from 48 to 55 last year, federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. Employment at liquor stores in the county has increased from 301 in 2008 to 347 in 2011.

December is a busy month for the liquor store, Shirley Djambinov said, but contrary to the popular perception of New Year’s Eve as a drinking holiday, that’s not the top draw of the month.

“We’re busier at Christmas. Most people are working New Year’s Eve around here,” she said.

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