Establishing a Home in the Strip District
    Owner Christian Simmons

    Owner Christian Simmons

    It’s here! The first-ever privately owned craft liquor store in the state has opened in the Strip District—thanks to Christian Simmons, president/owner of Pennsylvania Libations. After much work and anticipation, Pennsylvania Libations secured the license and officially opened for business a few months ago on Penn Avenue in the heart of the Strip District.

    Simmons, no stranger to entrepreneurship, first cofounded a brewery in Latrobe, and later was a broker for Pennsylvania craft distilleries. He figured he could be an asset to individual local distilleries of vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, bourbon, and other liquors—representing their products to various bars and restaurants, which he did for a few years. While successfully marketing these brands as a broker, he got the idea to petition the state for a liquor license for a retail store—and subsequently became the first person to be awarded such a license.

    The Strip District was Simmons’s first choice for his flagship store. “I chose the Strip because I just love the energy and the revolving door of travelers from all over the world,” he says. “The people that work down here and own the businesses are just amazing to work side by side with. This is where family businesses come to thrive. The location on 21st and Penn is close to the highest amount of foot traffic in one given area across the whole state, every weekend! I was always told by my grandfather: location, location, location.”

    It appears that Simmons’s decision to locate in the Strip couldn’t have been better, as business is thriving after just a short time. “The expectations have been fully met and are exceeded tenfold. So many people have said that the Strip needed a store like this among the finer selections of cheese, chocolates, meats, flowers, seafood, and wine,” explains Simmons. “The store’s location is a perfect spot for a new or aged distillery to have its products gain overnight brand equity. So in a very significant way, the Strip District’s heritage has created a one-of-a-kind incubator for fine Pennsylvania craft spirits.”

    PA Libations

    At the retail store, customers can sample products—a “try as you buy” bonus afforded craft distilleries—which is not an option at state-run liquor stores. Simmons and staff are all about educating the public, as customers might not be as familiar with, or have had access to, these award-wining spirits before.

    Kevin Lloyd, co-owner and production manager at Big Spring Spirits distillery in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, likes the idea, too: “We’re excited to be in the Strip. Chris has been selling for us for over a year, so to have direct sales from person to person at a fixed, busy location where customers can try our product before buying is a unique opportunity you can’t get at a state store—and for us to showcase our products. A lot of people don’t know about our products since we are from Bellefonte, so this is good exposure. It has been going really well for us so far.”

    Another unique concept Simmons initiated that many customers have taken to is his “buy a bottle, sign a barrel” idea. Any customer who buys a bottle of liquor can put his/her signature on a new oak barrel. Once the barrel has enough signatures it will be sent to Big Spring Spirits to be filled and aged for two years. After two years, those signatures will be represented on the label of the new bottle of liquor when it comes to market. “We will take a 360-degree image of the barrel and try our best to imitate the image as the label for the bottle, thus creating a true Signature Series,” says Simmons. Already, two barrels are almost covered in signatures. “We will be constantly replacing new barrels. This is never-ending. It will be an ongoing thing.”

    There’s a lot more ahead for Pennsylvania Libations, too. Simmons is excited about the different brands that will be arriving, or have recently arrived, especially the barrel-aged bourbons and whiskeys. The store will have all kinds of products, from specialty and small batch to the larger and consistent productions. At press time another milestone for Simmons—the state approved the following distilleries that are now available to taste and purchase: Big Spring Spirits, CJ Spirits, Thistle Finch Distillery, Liberty Pole Spirits, Xplorer Spirits, Ridge Runner Distillery, Boyd and Blair Potato Vodka, Maggie’s Farm Rum, Conneaut Cellars Winery and Distillery. Coming soon are: Manatawny Still Works, Hidden Still, Bella Bambini Cello, @RedPumpSpirits, and Philadelphia Distilling.

    The recent approvals from the state for the inaugural store are just the beginning for Simmons. He already has plans to expand to major tourist areas throughout the state. Pennsylvania Libations also offers beverage service for special events, private events in the retail space, free 20-minute tastings, fundraisers, and more—anything to help the distilleries and potential customers connect. This is all just the start of Simmons’s ultimate goal of marketing the distilleries on a much bigger scale. “It’s the big picture, starting in the Strip District,” he says.

    To keep up-to-date on products, events, store hours, and more, follow Pennsylvania Libations on social media or visit pennsylvanialibations.com and join the email list. Store/contact information: 2103 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222; 412-918-1208; info@pennsylvanialibations.com. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

    Denise S. Artman is a staff photographer and regular contributor to The Strip! See more of her photography at fb: denisesartmanphotography.