September 2010

Riptide Liquors - Welcome To Fantasy Island

Author: David Gignilliat | Photographer: John Brackett

This is not your father’s liquor store. Or your grandfather’s, for that matter.

Though all liquor stores and package shops share the same purpose—to conveniently match customers with their products of choice—there is something quite different in the air at Bluffton’s Riptide Liquors. Somehow the ‘liquor store’ or ‘package shop’ label doesn’t quite do the new ownership justice, as the popular drink tank radiates a higher evolutionary station than your run-of-the-mill corner booze mart.

“Most liquor stores are just bland—you walk in and [it’s] white walls and shelves, no theme; but we wanted to have a theme here,” said Riptide owner Tracy Williams, 36, who opened his first store on Burnt Church Road in 2008, followed by the flagship Rose Hill Plantation location in October 2009. “People come in and say, ‘It’s like being in a [beach] club when we come in here.’ They come in, have fun, and hopefully they’ll want to come back again.”

Gleaming, sky-blue walls create a sublime canvas for Riptide Liquors’ tropical haven. A flock of multicolored parrots hover politely below the store’s high ceilings. The checkout counter, a tiki hut adorned with bamboo thrushes, brings to mind images of Key West’s Duval Street or the sun-splashed white-coral shores of French Polynesia. A beach umbrella marks the store’s equator, a beacon for even the most spiritless of visitors. A weathered oak barrel, ostensibly a display stand for single-serving intoxicants, is also a dutiful homage to the Lowcountry’s unique place in rum-running lore and legend. Form and function meet again as an Internet-enabled flat-screen monitor doubles as a tropical oasis screensaver and cocktail search engine, designed to quench any customer’s drink recipe requests.

The setting and experience at Riptide Liquors is as well-crafted as it is intentional and thorough. Attention to detail is thoughtful, yet subtle, nuanced and satisfying as a well-blended lime daiquiri. The speaker system rotates an inviting mix of parrothead-friendly satellite radio fare with an endless summer’s worth of songs that have been cross-checked for the faintest traces of liquor and alcohol references (the Snoop Dogg anthem, “Gin and Juice” or The Andrews Sisters’ calypso classic, “Rum and Coca-Cola,” for example).

Yet somehow, amid all the precision, the vibe at Riptide Liquors remains casual, inviting and ultimately, intoxicating.

Williams, the store’s affable, mannered leader, traces his unique Riptide concept not to a small business planning workshop or even a lifelong passion for alcohol, but to a less complicated mental state.

“I was bored at work one day and saw my [Burnt Church Road] location online for sale. So I was like, ‘Maybe, that’s something good to do,’” he explained.

So, he did it—not on a lark, but rather with a single-minded purpose: to deliver a truly positive, memorable and unique shopping experience that customers would feel compelled to share with even their most tee-totaling friends.

“I wanted to have the nicest liquor store around, and it’s been proven that this is …,” said Williams, pausing momentarily to search for the right word.

“It,” added Greg Bramlett, politely finishing his friend, colleague and boss’s thought.

Bramlett, 40, is the Baylor Road Riptide manager, but that title does not adequately describe his unique skill set. Part alcohol concierge, part self-styled ‘intoxicologist,’ he’s the “Mr. Roarke,” welcoming visitors and locals to Riptide’s ‘Fantasy Island,’ a place where they can live out all their sauce-soaked dreams for a fair price.

“We want you to feel welcome, so you don’t feel like you have to sneak around the corner to see what you want to [drink],” said Bramlett, who admits that “quite a bit of at-home, on-the-job training” informs his friendly consultative approach.

The store’s clientele is as flavored and diverse as a refreshing Long Island Iced Tea on a late summer day—hosts and hostesses of house parties and social events, everyday and every-other-day customers, boaters, golfers and the never-ending pour of area visitors—but without the mind-numbing hangover.

“We’re the fun store,” quipped Bramlett.

Riptide also boasts the largest vodka wall in Beaufort County and the most complete assortment of grab-and-go liquor/mixer combos in the area. Though tastes and trends tend to change on a dime, Williams and Bramlett roll effortlessly with the times. So whether you need a classic Cosmo, an invigorating Mojito, a ’50s-style Tom Collins, the good ole-fashioned hard stuff or a strawberry-flavored White Russian (that even “The Dude” could abide by), the guys at Riptide can do the trick.

“I try to get people to think out of the box,” said Bramlett.

The eventual ether—an elegant concoction of Jimmy Buffett’s ‘Margaritaville’ ethos with Warren Buffet’s business savvy—is a soul-enriching cocktail you will not soon forget.

Riptide Liquors’ flagship store is located at 95 Baylor Dr. Suite 120, just off Buck Island Road in Rose Hill Plantation’s main shopping center, with a second facility at 50 Burnt Church Road in Bluffton. Both locations are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed Sundays. For more information, call (843) 757-7404 or visit Riptide Liquor on Facebook.

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