Alcohol-free store converts sceptics

Despite having its share of detractors, the South Island’s first alcohol-free bottle store is reporting a successful first four months since opening.

Invercargill businesswoman Kelly Blomfield opened the store in December last year after laying off the booze during the Covid-19 lockdown, and had since built up a base of regular customers and was meeting new people every day.

"It’s been absolutely awesome. I’ve met some of the coolest people, and I get to hear really awesome stories from new people every day.

"I’ve genuinely enjoyed seeing people responding when they come in.

"It’s been great."

Invercargill businesswoman Kelly Blomfield opened South Island’s first alcohol-free bottle store...
Invercargill businesswoman Kelly Blomfield opened South Island’s first alcohol-free bottle store in December last year, and after adding a bar last month hopes to continue expanding the business in other avenues. PHOTO: BEN TOMSETT

Previously a glass-repair store, Ms Blomfield converted the intimate space with her own designs, giving the building a cozy, retro vibe.

"It’s such an awesome building, and it’s the last original one on the block — all the others have been redone."

The business encountered several challenges that all new businesses faced, but nothing that was not forecast.

Opening during the Christmas period had given the store a massive initial run before tapering off to a regular base, Ms Blomfield said.

She was now using that base to branch out into work functions, markets and other events — including opening an in-store alcohol-free bar last month.

"A lot of people that do come in, it’s simply for health reasons.

"A lot of people are just trying to drink less, and this gives them options ... If people don’t want to consume alcohol anymore but still want to be social and feel like grown up, it’s a needed thing."

The first of its kind in the South Island, a store in Ponsonby beat her to the punch as the country’s first by a few weeks — though alcohol-free bottle stores have been rising in popularity abroad for several years.

"A lot of people that do have drinking issues are triggered by the thought of an alcohol-free bottle store, because it almost makes them confront their own issues.

"But in saying that, I’ve had some real doubters come in off the street, and leave with a product."

After deciding to go sober for a year for health benefits, local man Ali Smith said he had become a regular customer at Altered and had since landed on a preferred brew.

"It’s part of trying to neutralise a stigma, I guess.

"Because obviously you get all the questions from the friend group or the peer group you’re with, but if you’ve got a beer in your hand that looks like a beer then it reduces that."

Ms Blomfield said she hoped to find other avenues to expand the business and make use of the space she was in, including potentially booking live music for alcohol-free evenings.