When I stopped by Boisson, the non-alcoholic beverages shop, in the West Village after it opened, and asked Jesse Fried, the sales associate, whom it appealed to, his answer surprised me. I presumed it would be primarily people who don’t drink, but he replied the clientele consists mostly of people who want to drink less.
Boisson is one of a growing number of non-alcoholic specialty shops in New York, and it has been expanding at a healthy rate. Other non-alcoholic retail outlets in New York City include Curious Elixirs, Spirited Away and Minus Moonshines. And in September, Sechey, a nonalcoholic beverage store based in Charleston with a tasting counter just opened in the West Village.
The impetus for opening Boisson stemmed from the personal experiences of its two owners, Nick Bodkins and Barrie Arnold, who met when they worked together at an insurance software company. They said their inspiration derived from their post-COVID 19’s lockdown drinking habits. Once they realized that a number of people were looking for more sober options, the idea for Boisson percolated.
Bodkins says motivations for reducing alcohol intake included women who are pregnant, training for a race, and going ‘damp’ (a term mean reducing one’s alcohol intake) for a month or cutting out liquor totally. The partners started experimenting with non-alcoholic drinks and after investing in direct-to-consumer sales, they decided to open a neighborhood store. Non-alcoholic shops are proliferating on the coasts and proving that many consumers are looking to cut down on their drinking.
Boisson opened in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn in 2021 and already has added four locations in Williamsburg, West Village, Upper East Side and Upper West Side. Then in 2022 it moved to the other coast, opening a Los Angeles location in Brentwood in August and a second one in Studio City in early September, and is on target for adding Beverly Hills some time this fall.
Bodkins says Los Angeles was a natural location for them because “it’s a major health and wellness hub where sober-curiosity is on the rise.”
Boisson has plans to keep expanding in 2022. It’s looking into the three new locations in San Francisco, Chicago and Miami. Bodkins says “Its’ goal is to hit about 30 to 35 locations in 10 markets by the end of 2023 including the major metro areas of Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Austin, San Diego, Seattle and Portland.”
Boisson’s customers care about product’s ingredients, their overall health and wellness and an active, healthy lifestyle, Bodkins notes.
The owners said funding to open was bootstrapped when friends and family raised the first round to fuel growth. But Bodkins and Arnold have proven quite adept at fundraising; in fact, they raised $12 million in February 2022, led by Connect Ventures and Blue Scorpion. Their goal, Arnold said, “was to begin the expansion of the brand into other U.S. markets and around the world.”
Most people learn about Boisson either through “Google or walking by a store,” notes Bodkins. Now that its popularity is spiking, word-of-mouth and publicity lure people in.
Its top-selling sellers are dealcoholized wines, which account for more than 50% of the company’s revenue. Some of the best performers in that category are Leitz, Thomson & Scott, and Surely.
Walking into the West Village store is Margot Romano, a return customer, who shops there because she “doesn’t like the taste of alcohol. And I don’t like the after effects.”
Sales associate Fried says that many customers buy items such as non-alcoholic sparkling wines for various celebrations. And he adds that non-alcoholic beers are much more varied than the days of just having O’Doul’s for sale.
Many of its customers, Fried says, continue to imbibe alcohol but want a break from it, and will vary their wine and beer intake with non-alcoholic liquor.
Fried says there’s a trend going on where post-pandemic people are drinking less alcohol and there’s no judgment any more about not-drinking so people don’t ask, “Why aren’t you drinking tonight?”
The owners named it Boisson to pay homage to the many French expatriates who reside in Cobble Hill. Boisson translates to “drink” in French, which seemed suitable or ironic, depending on one’s bent.