A longtime Lansing eyesore — and one of the South Lansing’s largest vacant retail spaces — will soon be transformed into the second biggest liquor store in the state. Over the next three months, Scott and Trina Niecko will spend roughly $1.2 million to renovate the 10,000-square-foot building at 3630 S. Cedar St., formerly an L&L Food Center, into the newest location for Mega-Bev, their family-owned chain of specialty spirit outlets. When it opens this May, Mega-Bev will be the first business to call the 72-year-old building home in over a decade.
“It’s pretty raw in there right now,” Scott Niecko said from his office in Battle Creek. “We’re currently in there drywalling and doing some reframing. All the coolers and compressors and shelving should be installed by April, and I anticipate (the build-out) going very smoothly. We’ve already taken care of all the (legal) hoop jumping. I’m used to the hoops by this point.”
Considering this is Niecko’s 12th business opening, his confidence seems well placed. In 1995, he entered the world of retail spirit sales when he bought a pint-sized, 800-square-foot party store in Battle Creek named, fittingly, the Party Store. He had spent some time in the world of commercial sales, but he had no experience in retailing beer, liquor or wine before hopping on the entrepreneurial wagon.
“My youngest daughter had just been born, and the idea of being self-employed was suddenly very alluring,” Niecko said. “It just seemed like a good opportunity. It was so small — I think it was the smallest place in town — and I thought maybe I could build it into something bigger.”
That thought turned out to be prophetic in more ways than one. A year after buying the Party Store, Niecko opened a second location in town that was nearly four times the size of the first one. The new store enabled him to start specializing in imported and Michigan-made wine, specialty liquor brands including high-end scotches and hardto-get imports — and the relatively new field of craft beer. These items seem like a no-brainer in today’s economy, but it was a novel move in the mid-‘90s.
“I had worked with (craft beer) long enough at that point to see there was a market,” Niecko said. “The grocery stores weren’t carrying anything craft or imported, except for Corona, but we were doing great with it. I started going after every craft beer I could get my hands on. That’s about the time you started seeing things like winter ales with ginger and nutmeg. Most people had no taste for it, but I could see there was a segment that really craved those kinds of beers.”
Niecko continued to open stores in other parts of town, occasionally selling some off, and eventually expanded into the nearby cities of Marshall and Portage. His wife, Trina Niecko, joined the executive management team in 2008, and two years later they rebranded the enterprise under the name Mega-Bev. The Nieckos eventually hired both of their daughters — the elder, Chelsie, serves as the company’s operations manager, while Darian manages Mega-Bev’s marketing and training. In 2012, the Nieckos opened a 12,000-square-foot Kalamazoo location, which became the largest liquor store in Michigan.
“But it’s not just about being the biggest,” Niecko said. “It’s extremely important to us that we ensure that each of our locations is providing outstanding service, first and foremost. I’ve done a little bit of self-studying and a lot of tasting, but I’m not a connoisseur (of alcohol) by any stretch. I’m a listener. I’m just a conduit for the customer to get what they want.”
Niecko said the Lansing store will stock over 10,000 products, about 2,000 of which will be craft beers. (By comparison, the next largest craft beer store in Lansing stocks between 600 and 700 styles of beer.) The new business will create about 12 to 15 permanent local jobs, with interviews starting this week. Renovation work to the building will include adding windows and exterior lighting and giving it a more subdued color scheme.
Niecko said the Lansing’s store’s inventory will be tailored to suit local tastes, including requests for nearby microbreweries and craft spirit distilleries.
“If it can be sold in Michigan, we’ll put it on our shelf,” Niecko said. “I’ve seen this industry change so much over the last 20 years, and I plan to stay on top of the latest developments to make sure that things never get boring. We’ve had our eye on Lansing for a while, and it’s exciting to bring (this concept) there. I think we’re going to appeal to a lot of people.”
Not everyone’s on board, however. On Sunday, Lansing City Councilwoman Jody Washington lambasted the business in a public post on her personal Facebook page. She denounced Mega- Bev as a “predatory business,” and sarcastically thanked Niecko — whom she called out by name — for opening Mega-Bev in the “run down” South Cedar corridor. The post had over 100 reactions and comments.
“This isn’t a corner liquor store,” Niecko said. “There aren’t going to be beer signs with prices hanging on the building like you see at other places. This is an upscale retail store specializing in rare and exotic (spirits), and it’s going to be a destination location. Our other stores are clean and well lit and have become a vital part of their communities, so I don’t understand what (Washington) is worried about. I think if people come in and check us out once we’re open, they’ll see there’s really no comparison. There really isn’t any other store like this in Lansing.”
Last week we listed the former home of Tripper’s in Frandor as one of the town’s most high-profile vacancies, but it turns out that wheels were already spinning to bring a new business into that location. Patrick F. Corr, president of Frandor’s property management company, Corr Commercial Real Estate, announced via Frandor’s Facebook page that national cosmetics chain Ulta Beauty would be moving into the 10,000-square-foot location this fall.
“We’re thrilled to ride the wave of momentum we’ve been experiencing in the last 24 months with the additions of high caliber tenants,” Corr said.
Last year, the shopping center adding children’s clothing outlets Carter’s and Osh Kosh B’gosh, women’s clothing store Dressbarn and fast casual eatery Blaze Pizza. Discount retailer T.J. Maxx opened in Frandor in October 2015.
Ulta has two other locations in the area: 333A N. Marketplace Blvd. at the Marketplace in Delta Township and 4886 Marsh Road in Meridian Towne Center across from Meridian Mall in Okemos.
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