Reflections on the 50 Year Anniversary of Rapid Liquors with Owner, Doug Shahian
It has been 50 years since Rapid Liquors opened its doors on Main Street, Stoneham. Since that time, Rapid has seen ups and downs, but always succeeded as a family-owned and operated small business, beginning with Paul Shahian, and now run by his son Doug and his wife Lisa. The Stoneham Chamber recently spoke to Doug about this impressive milestone, the upcoming celebration and how his father Paul’s vision, hard work and perseverance laid the groundwork for a business that is flourishing 50 years later.
How did Rapid Liquors come to be?
My late father, Paul, purchased the store from the Cerretani family in 1973. They had been operating the Stoneham Rapid Car Wash at this location for years and had begun the process of turning it into a liquor store when my father and a few friends decided to go into business together. My father was an attorney and was looking for a new opportunity. He lacked the creativity to come up with a new name for the store, so he made it Rapid Liquors because he figured people were familiar with the Rapid Car Wash at the same location. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my father’s perseverance. The first year in business was terrible for him and his partners and his two partners wanted out. Instead of giving up he invested everything he had and took out loans to buy his partners out and worked tirelessly to make it work. The business was an uphill battle for him for many years but as the second generation I am so thankful that he stuck with it and was also so open to our ideas when we came into the business. As technology became more prevalent in our industry my father allowed me to computerize everything here and allowed us to take on the renovation as well – I am so fortunate that I was able to show him what this business could be before he passed away.
How did you end up running Rapid Liquors?
Growing up in a family that owned a business meant that every moment that I was available to work I was expected to work. I went to College at Holy Cross in Worcester where I met my wife, Lisa. She immediately began helping at the store and never left. After college I worked for a few years at an accounting firm and spent my spare time at Rapid. As my father was getting older, I decided to enter the family business while he was still young enough to teach me everything I needed to know. Lisa and I took over the business completely about a decade ago, and Lisa is now our main buyer while I do the accounting. We did a massive renovation in 2016, doubling the size of the store and updating the esthetics.
Talk a bit about Rapid Liquors.
We are a true small family business, owned and operated by the same family for the entire 50 years. My father, who passed away in December of 2020, was a familiar face every single day. He loved it here. We know there are many places to shop these days, but we hope people value their locally owned businesses and continue to support local businesses because our community is better with all of these small family businesses.
50 years in business is a huge milestone. What do you think contributed the most to your longevity?
We pride ourselves on our pricing, selection and service. We work very hard to make sure we have the best prices around, competitive with anyone in the state. We also do special orders for anything that we do not carry since it is impossible to stock every item. I think the fact that we are a true family business has helped us as well. My wife and I have been here for 23 years together. Our management team has been with us for over 15 years and even a lot of our staff has been with us for almost 10 years. We have a steady team of familiar faces, and our customers know us and appreciate that someone they are familiar with will always be here.
Rapid Liquors regularly supports the Stoneham community through donations and sponsorships. Can you talk a bit about how charitable giving is part of your business?
We would be nothing without the people of Stoneham and the surrounding communities. We love to give back as much as possible and really wanted to make a statement in our 50th year with some larger donations. We recently auctioned off a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23yo and were able to raise over $4300 for the Stoneham Boys and Girls Club. We are selling limited edition t-shirts while supplies last with the proceeds going to the Mission of Deeds, hopefully $5000. We do a lot of store pick Bourbon barrels, where we select and purchase entire barrels of Bourbon, and we will be donating the proceeds from one of our future releases to the Stoneham Food Pantry. Throughout the year we donate gift baskets and gift cards to local charities, and we have been a partner of the Greater Boston Stage Company for many years as well. We need to support the community that has supported us for 50 years.
What is the most rewarding part of the work you do?
My wife and I have been in this business for 23 years now. This business has evolved over the years, and we’ve seen many trends and fads, but the one thing remains constant is that people use our products to celebrate, whether it is a dinner or holiday party, graduation, or gift giving – my favorite part of the business is helping people find the right beer, wine or spirit for that special occasion. I love when someone comes back in to the store and raves about a selection that we’ve made for them.
What is most challenging about running a liquor store?
My least favorite thing that has happened in the past decade here is the guy who drove his car through the front doors at 1am. Getting that call and driving down to the store was miserable! Thankfully the Police were able to apprehend the intruder and the Building Inspector was able to keep us open pending repairs. The most challenging thing about owning a liquor store these days is buying everything the right way so that we can be competitive on every item. We spend countless hours ensuring that we always get the best prices so we can pass the deals on to our customers and maintain our reputation as one of the best stores in the state.
You are hosting a 50th anniversary celebration on June 24th, will you tell us a bit about that?
Our 50th Anniversary Party will be held on Saturday June 24th from 11am to 3pm. We will have vendors here sampling Beer, Wine and Liquor and will be releasing multiple new store pick Bourbons as well. We will have a “Spin the Wheel of Prizes” going where we will be giving away thousands of dollars’ worth of items like grills, solo stoves, coolers and tickets. We also partnered with multiple businesses in town and will be giving away $50 gift cards to other small family-owned businesses in Stoneham. We also have the Boston Bacon Truck coming and serving free food while it lasts – sandwiches, tots and bacon!
What do you envision the future of your business to be?
If I only knew! We’ve seen so many things in the past 23 years and have never seen any of the trends coming. We had the flavored vodka craze with things like Swedish Fish and Cotton Candy vodkas, Bourbons that are incredibly rare today used to just be sitting on the shelves a few years back. One of my favorite swing and misses by us was the first seltzer to hit the market: It was called “Spiked Seltzer” and came out in 2013. We all tasted samples of it and all agreed that it was terrible! We couldn’t imagine why anyone would drink it. We all know what happened after that! Seltzers are now the most popular thing on the market and we sell an unbelievable amount of different brands.
The business is constantly evolving. Tequila is the hot new thing now with Rum up and coming. Ten years ago, there were no seltzers on the market, only a handful of Tequilas with no super premium options, and there were not entire Facebook groups dedicated to collecting and trading Bourbon. So we have no idea what the future holds – but we are ready and eager to adapt!