APPLEJACK PHOTO 1

Applejack Wine & Spirit’s store in Wheat Ridge, which opened in 1961, is one of the state’s largest liquor outlets. Applejack added a second location in Thornton last year, and now plans a third store in Colorado Springs in the former Whole Foods space at the east-side First & Main Town Center shopping center.

Applejack Wine & Spirits, whose wide selection of beer, wine and liquor has gained a statewide following since it opened more than 60 years ago, is the latest familiar Denver-area brand to expand to Colorado Springs.

The beverage retailer plans to take over the former Whole Foods space at the First & Main Town Center, northeast of Powers Boulevard and South Carefree Circle on the city’s east side.

CEO Jim Shpall said he’s targeting a summer opening for the location, which will join Applejack’s legacy store that opened in Wheat Ridge in 1961 and a second outlet that launched last year in Thornton.

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Applejack is one of several Denver-area restaurants, stores and entertainment venues that have flocked to Colorado Springs in recent years — attracted by what they’ve said is the city’s strong economy, surging population and desirable quality of life.

Among those open: Atomic Cowboy, Fat Sully’s Pizza, Denver Biscuit Co., Dos Santos Tacos, White Pie Pizzeria, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, Anthony’s Pizza, Mici Handcrafted Italian, ViewHouse and Parry’s Pizzeria.

The Tattered Cover bookstore and Mexican restaurant Illegal Pete’s are coming to downtown this year, while Snarf’s Sandwiches plans to debut this summer on North Academy Boulevard.

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In Applejack’s case, a change in state law regulating liquor licenses allowed the retailer to add a third location after Jan. 1, Shpall said.

“With the change in the law, we looked all over the place,” he said. “We wanted to move into a new, dynamic place. That’s our model. And there’s no more dynamic city right now than Colorado Springs, in terms of growth and other things.

“Look at the growth in El Paso County,” Shpall added. “Look at the development of industry there. All of those things are important to look at. We saw it as a great opportunity. Not that other stores don’t serve those needs as well. But we thought, because it’s growing so much, it could hold another store.”

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Applejack will occupy about 28,000 square feet at the former Whole Foods, which will be comparable to its Wheat Ridge store and make the Springs location one of the area’s largest liquor outlets.

The retailer expects to employ about 50 to 70 full- and part-time workers, Shpall said.

Like restaurants, department stores and other retail segments, competition is steep among liquor outlets.

Every grocery-anchored shopping center seems to have a liquor store, while Cheers Liquor Mart, Coaltrain and several other longtime local beverage retailers are well-known in the Pikes Peak region. Grocery stores, meanwhile, were legally allowed to begin selling full-strength beer in 2019, and online purchases are just a few keyboard strokes or smartphone taps away.

Brick-and-mortar liquor stores such as Applejack, however, offer advantages that customers can’t find elsewhere and certainly not online, Shpall said.

Expert employees can answer questions, offer suggestions and give advice, while customers can sample and taste wines, order special items and explore the store to find a hidden gem, Shpall said. And having the best selection, prices and customer service have been pillars of Applejack’s brand over six decades, he said.

“People still like to shop,” Shpall said. “They want to look. They want to touch. They want to experience it in that brick-and-mortar setting. We understand what the internet is. But the ability to come in, and we’ll have tastings or we’ll have people that are talking about the wines and the spirits and the beer, is something you don’t get on the internet.

“It’s one thing to go on the internet and get a description of this wine or that spirit,” he said. “It’s something else to have somebody in there and experts who know it and who have tasted it, who can explain it to you and give you a feel for what went into producing that item. Why is a wine from Italy different than a wine from Spain different than a wine from Napa Valley? All those things can be discussed in person.”

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