Meet Joel ‘Smitty’ Smitter, owner and proprietor of Smitty’s Specialty Beverage in the Eastown neighborhood of Grand Rapids. You’ll see him in this TARDIS-like building (bigger on the inside) many days out of the week, along with his two sons, Joel and Jared.
This is a family-owned, family-operated business, and a staple of this neighborhood since opening in 1982, and, believe me, the wide variety of clientele that frequent this shop are appreciative for it.
“We really pride ourselves on customer service and being a full service store. We’ve got great staff with a ton of product knowledge — they are much better than I am — and a great selection,” says Smitty. “We are told that — according to the state liquor licensing — [we are] the largest independent liquor license in the state of Michigan.”
The liquor selection — many of which are Michigan made — is huge, and the craft beer section extensive. With a recent revamp and expansion of the building about three years ago, Smitty’s grew even more to carry more product selection for its loyal customers.
“We’ve done a lot of things over the years, and we’ve learned a lot from our customers. I’m so grateful I was smart enough to listen to them,” Smitty says.
Listening to customers, carrying product that’s in demand and employing not only family but folks who are members of the local community, help to make this shop feel like home for so many of their clientele.
Long-term employees provide a familiar face and recognize those customers who walk through the doors a few times a week. The employees are always helpful and ready with suggestions for the best holiday gift for your whiskey lover, will help you put together that perfect six pack or let you know what sought-after brew will be out soon.
Smitty’s works frequently with the Eastown Community Association (ECA), embracing the mantra of ‘local first.’ The bottle shop participates in its annual Halloween Walk (featuring full-size candy bars, folks) and recently, it auctioned off the sought after Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey to a few local folks who donated to the ECA, raising just under $400 for the community organization.
On the shop’s 25th anniversary, Smitty’s threw a party and raised several thousand dollars for the group, and Smitty says they will do it again for their 35th — a $5 or so donation will get you in. Expect local music, food, fun raffles and prizes, and all the proceeds going back to the neighborhood.
Walk through the double doors past the flyers advertising local shows, copies of Revue and other Grand Rapids-based magazines, look up and say hi to those folks, who are often members of Smitty’s family, at the counter, and make your way into the crowded warmth of the place, liquor bottles stacked high and wine on shelves. Brave the beer cooler and keep your coat on, because you’ll be in there awhile.
Family owned and operated with a ‘local first’ mentality, putting customers first, the Smitty’s crew exists to serve you.