How do four people who’ve never owned a retail space or worked in the beverage industry end up owning a boutique liquor store in Casper?
Like any good story about alcohol, it’s complicated and the timeline is blurry, but it also comes down to simple enjoyment.
“We all love the product,” co-owner Lauren Griffith explained, laughing.
That’s the name that Griffith, co-owner Linda Boatright and general manager Travis Winchell use for the wide variety of alcohol they sell. It’s sales-speak, but it’s also a fair description. People view the drinks they sell more as a delight than an intoxicant, more a beverage to enjoy and explore than a bottle whose buzz is the goal.
It started more than three years ago, when Boatright and her husband, Art, heard that the old Pacific Fruit & Produce Co. building in the Old Yellowstone District was for sale. They brought in Griffith and her husband, John. They kicked around ideas. Maybe a restaurant. Maybe a bar. Maybe a retail space.
Eventually, the idea of Urban Bottle was born. Boatright and Griffith gushed about obtaining the retail liquor license — a typically expensive and difficult acquisition. But the city of Casper leased them the license, tying it to the building.
Boatright said the city has been a partner in the process, working with the owners as part of the city’s effort to revitalize the Old Yellowstone District.
“The city said, ‘Would you be interested in a retail (liquor) license?’” she recalled. “And we said, ‘Heck, yeah.’”
They are enthusiastic. The women love wines. Art Boatright enjoys the beer. John Griffith is drawn to the spirits. But none was an expert.
Enter Winchell. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say he gently forced his entrance.
“I kind of threw myself at” the Boatrights, he joked. At the time, he was the food and beverage director at a country club, where he met them.
“Not really!” Linda Boatright objected, laughing. “We thought, ‘Wow, he’s really showing us a lot of attention tonight.’ He was bringing us over little samples of wine.”
So they brought him on board. Travis brought the wine wisdom and beer brilliance, and he does marketing through social media.
The original goal was to open the store in fall 2014.
That didn’t happen. Though the four owners bought the entire space on Ash Street, the majority went to Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana. The owner of Racca’s, Mark Dym, was an old friend of the Griffiths.
To save money, a lot of the renovation was done by John and Art, both of whom have a background in construction. The work took months, and getting the bar and grill license for Racca’s added to delays. They had to change the entire design of the space during construction.
The pizzeria finally opened in August. Urban followed four months later, finally uncorking its first bottle in mid-December.
The newly completed space is open, with high ceilings and concrete and brick walls that are partially obscured by shelves of spirits. Wine racks, kept below head level so customers don’t feel like they’re trapped in a maze, stand perpendicular to a row of refrigerators that contain a variety of beer.
Some of the space’s original wood is nailed above the back wall, over a small, L-shaped bar at which Urban Bottle hosts wine tastings twice a week. In the future, they plan to hold classes on mixology, wine pairings and more.
Boatright handles most of the tastings. Her book club has come through. Usually, she tries to pick an interesting, relatively inexpensive beverage of which the store has ample supply — just in case tasters want to become drinkers.
Urban’s business model — selling a mix of interesting, unique drinks that are approachable and affordable for aficionados and average consumers alike — was partially dictated by the space. The character and history of the building called for something different.
“The space lent itself perfectly for this,” Griffith added. “It’s just perfect.”
Boatright said they did some research, checking out similar boutique stores in Denver, Jackson and elsewhere in the country.
“It was like, well, why doesn’t Casper have a place like that instead of just these basic, run-of-the-mill grocery stores?” Boatright said.
And in the more than two weeks that Urban has been open, customers have appreciated the difference. Winchell and the owners said business has been good so far, though it’s too early to start looking at trends. But they credit their unique approach with their early success.
“That’s a component a lot of people miss out on: telling a story along with a bottle,” Winchell said. “They like the environment, the comfortable feel.”
“We’re hoping this becomes a place where people — maybe they have to go out of their way, maybe not — but they want to come here because they get something they can’t get anywhere else,” Boatright added.
Winchell, Boatright and Griffith all talked about how much they enjoy running the business. They take pleasure in not only walking customers through the process of buying liquor or finding a new beer but also the joy they find personally in running the business and tasting their wares.
“Everything we bring in here is picked out carefully and thoughtfully,” Winchell said. “We don’t have 50 vodkas on the shelf, but we have a handful of select vodkas that are all interesting for different reasons.”
The store offers hundreds of different kinds of wines, spirits and beer, the work of Winchell. The owners strive to offer a wide array of drinks at a variety of price points.
The social side — offering these beverages to customers — in particular has been worth the delays and effort.
“I’m surprised that so many people want to just hang out,” Griffith said. “That is the coolest thing.”