Super Bottle Depot uncorks the secret to running a successful local business
From behind the counter of Super Bottle Depot, 1357 S. 76th St., co-owner Omer Audi grabs a pack of cigarettes and sets it on the counter before the customer says a word.
"John's a trouble maker, but we love him and we know what he wants," Audi jokes, sliding the cigs toward the smiling man who is obviously a "regular."
Audi and his brother, Sam, purchased the West Allis liquor and tobacco store almost six years ago from longtime owners Jim and Marge Banaszynski.
The business – always called Super Bottle – has been around for decades, but the Banaszynskis never ran the liquor store and leased it to others. The Audi brothers leased the space for a year and then bought the building from the aging couple.
Today, many customers share stories about coming to the store as children with their parents. Many have vivid memories of the 1950 building because of its unique appearance which includes a distinctive, vintage sign.
"I hear a lot of stories from the past," says Audi. "That's one of the best things about it being a liquor store for so long."
Right before the Audis took over the business, Super Bottle was struggling. The operators at the time lacked merchandise and people started to lose faith in the selection and the service. However, within a short amount of time, the Audi brothers restored Super Bottle Depot as a neighborhood favorite as well as a destination for people living outside of West Allis.
"We keep it really personable and that really helped grow our business," says Audi. "We focus on knowing what they drink, what they smoke, and before they ask for it, we have it on the counter."
The store is small – about 1,000 square feet including storage – and it's packed with bottles and cans from floor to ceiling. When the brothers took over the business they built lots of shelving to provide more of a selection.
"It's a small store with a lot of variety," says Audi. "We cram a lot into this little store. We have brought in what customers requested and more."
Audi says he sells a lot of beer and vodka. The store is also known for its solid-and-affordable selection of wine as well as a decent selection of craft and German-brewed beers.
"I'm a German beer guy. Love the flavor," says Audi. "I've learned a lot about beer – about liquor in general – over the past six years. I'll try anything in here and, if it sticks, we'll keep it."
Audi worked in the car rental business for 16 years and opened the liquor store with his brother after he was downsized from management. The brothers started buying real estate in 1987 and today own numerous rental properties, the Super Bottle building and the building across the street which housed the quirky, iconic Owl Imports for 60 years.
Last year, the brothers attempted to move Super Bottle Depot to the Owl Imports building, 7546 W. Greenfield Ave., but they couldn't get approval from West Allis because, according to Audi, the city didn't want a liquor store on Greenfield Avenue.
Super Bottle Depot is open 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and the Audi brothers work most of the hours themselves.
"It's tough sometimes on our families, especially on holidays, but we always celebrate after hours," says Audi. "And I'm not complaining. I love being here, being my own boss and interacting with the customers."
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