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Spirited Away – New York City’s First Booze-Free Package Shop

Douglas Watters was walking the dog around downtown New York on weekends and noticed lots of signs in vacant storefronts. So, he started calling the brokers and making ridiculously low offers for retail space. And one of them panned out.

That's how New York City's first, exclusively booze-free package store was born.

The idea for Spirited Away came as Douglas started examining his personal relationship with alcohol. "Do I enjoy the feeling [I get from drinking] or do I drink because alcohol is so ubiquitous," he asked himself.

He realized it was the latter. So, he became more intentional about when and why he drank. He started introducing non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits into his routine as a way to celebrate without getting tipsy.

But Douglas found exploration and discovery in the non-alc space a bit challenging, as most brands sell direct-to-consumer...

"I can read all about what flavor notes to expect when I drink, say, Ghia, on their site, but until I hold the bottle in my hand and talk to someone 'irl' about how it tastes, I don't really "get it," Douglas says.

He also speculated that consumers were having a hard time "getting it" as a lot of non-alc brands are presented in specialty shops, surrounded by things other than non-alc spirits.

So, Douglas made a list of the non-alc brands he had tried and enjoyed and also those he hadn't tried but thought looked interesting. Then he started emailing (in most cases speaking with the company founders) and getting samples. Inventory started to build up in his NYC apartment.

And Spirited Away opened for business at 153 Ludlow St. in New York's Lower East Side on November 7th.

The store stocks non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits from domestic and international producers. But it also carries drinking vinegars, cordials, pre-mixed cocktails and even our favorite "leisure soda," Casamara Club.

You'll know some of the brands at Spirited Away - like Seedlip, Lyre's and Athletic Brewing. But Douglas also brought in some lesser known spirits like Three Spirit and Pentire from the UK.

He's finding the better-known brands attract customers to the store, who then discover new products...

"People know and love Seedlip because it's the biggest brand, but the space is all about discovery," Waters told The Zero Proof.

Customers who want Seedlip will come in for that instant gratification. But they'll browse the shop and leave with something new - often something you can't find anywhere else in the US.

You can visit SpiritedAway if you're in New York City. The store offers delivery below 14th Street and contactless pickup through its website.

Douglas is also hosting sidewalk events outside the shop.

He opened with an event co-hosted with Lyre's, the non-alcoholic spirit brand. They even converted some drinkers with their non-alc Dark N Stormys.

Spirited Away's sidewalk event with Lyre's

You can follow Spirited Away on Instagram (@spiritedawayny) for future events.

If you're not in New York, you can check out the store online (though no shipping products outside the city just yet).