• First in a series

For the owners of Hilltop Grocery, Bill Esselman and Jamie Wylie, the decision to sell beer was simply seen as a business decision. The two chose to sell beer at Hilltop to remain competitive and to offer customers what they have been asking for.

“We have been getting calls from customers each day wanting to know when we are going to get beer,” Wylie said. “On a daily basis we receive about eight to 10 calls per day from people asking about beer.”

Hilltop Grocery, located on the corner of Interstate 35E and Rogers Street, has been under the ownership of Esselman and Wylie since 1997. The store offers its customers a variety of different items that include canned goods, packaged grocery items, fresh-made sandwiches at a deli counter, gas and other miscellaneous items.

With Waxahachie’s passage of a beer and wine referendum in November, their first planned improvement is the addition of a five-door walk-in cooler for beer to be located on the right side of the building. Originally, the owners were against the idea of selling beer at their business, but reconsidered after the election had passed and other stores announced plans for going wet.

“It wasn’t about a religious conviction that made me against it. It was the fact that I didn’t want to see beer trucks running up and down the streets of the city. I didn’t want to have those trucks cluttering the streets,” Esselman said. “With the way things are in the economy, the number of taxable sales have slowed down.”

Esselman said that, on Monday, his store traffic was about 365 people for a single day. He noted that kind of foot traffic is not bad for a small store, but business is still slow.

The state of the economy has affected the sales of such items as gasoline, sandwiches and lottery tickets.

“If I was not going to sell (beer), people would eventually buy all they needed at one location that did sell it. My son told me that if I was not going to sell beer that I would go broke,” Esselman said.

“With gas prices going up and down and not remaining consistent, we have lost a lot of money. We would buy it at a certain price and when we would do that, sure enough it would go down. We would buy it again and it still goes down. The price of gas lately is like a roller coaster,” he said.

When beer salesmen came to the store, Esselman inquired about how much revenue could be generated by the sales of beer at Hilltop. Esselman said if the store could generate at least $25,000 more a year he would consider selling the product. The sales person assured him that he would. He cited a store in Dallas that was about the same size that cleared more than $400,000 in profits from beer sales. 

“When he told me that figure I thought he was crazy. He also told me that they had to make two trips a week back to that store to resupply it,” Esselman said. “Waxahachie is a lot different from Dallas, but we are in a prime location and I could see foot traffic start to increase once we’re able to sell it. If the beer sales are good, we would like to be able to give our employees here a raise.”

Hilltop has been given approval from the city to seek a permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to sell beer.

Esselman and Wylie hope to start sales of beer to their customers in the next month.

He added that, if the sale of beer does not work out and is not profitable, the two plan to move Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper products into the cooler and out of the vending machines.

E-mail Andrew at andrew.branca@wninews.com