As it turns out, I haven't been to Sam's in almost two years. Binny's is a little more convenient for me and my log shows a lot of visits to stores in Kentucky and other places in the interim. However, I have been shopping at Sam's for about 20 years.
I paid a visit yesterday.
Midday on a Monday I would expect to be slow, but the store seemed practically empty and there were only about four cars in the parking lot. More significantly, the store's famous clutter seemed to be gone, or at least much reduced. Sam's always has seemed to be in a struggle between providing enough room for product and providing enough room for customers, with customers usually on the short end. The aisles are now much wider. That's not bad, but the impression to a long-time shopper is that there is a lot less product on offer.
At some time in the not so distant past, they filled the store up with big screen TVs showing commercials. Those are all gone.
The tall shelving at the far end of the store, going up probably 20 feet or more, with bottle goods where you could reach them and cases, accessible by lift truck, above them, the high part of that is all gone.
It also seemed harder to find my bread and butter, wine-wise, which is pretty decent wines (usually from Australia, New Zealand, Chile or Argentina) for less than $10 a bottle. Oh, I still found a few, but the new low end seems to be between $10 and $20 a bottle.
American whiskey still a very good selection and fair if not outstanding prices. They had Hirsch 16 gold foil in pretty good supply, for $99.99. Also several expression of Black Maple Hill, Noah's Mill and Vintage. Although there were only a few people in the store, I saw two different groups clustered around and discussing the various Vintage offerings, which I believe included a 17, 21 and 23 in the bourbons. Also on the shelf, I counted three, was the 21-year-old Rittenhouse, at $143. On the other hand, I didn't notice any of the BT Antiques and saw only one Van Winkle, a Pappy.
I picked up an Old Forester 100 (not Signature) 1.75, along with a 750 of Rittenhouse Rye. Out of curiosity, I also bought a 750 of Laird's Applejack.
It was hard to tell from that visit if Sam's is in trouble or just trying to clean up its act a little to compete better with Binny's. Sam's now has three locations while Binny's has 17, maybe it's 19. Sam's was always a warehouse-type store, so maybe what I observed is all deliberate. Maybe not. I have heard some grumbling in the industry about "the sons" not having the same fire for the business as the founding generation.