South Downs Cellars has expanded the floorspace within its Lindfield branch in order to offer an extended range of craft beers.

The independent wine merchant, which has two branches across Sussex, has now reopened its doors fully to customers. The retailer switched to a 100% online service when lockdown was announced, and the shops were partially reopened from mid-May to serve customers from the door over the summer months.

While the stores were closed the company took the opportunity to invest in the Lindfield branch with a refit that involved adding an extra room at the back of the shop to extend its growing craft beer range.

The refit has allowed the business to add two double-door fridges in the dedicated beer area, and it has also included a revamp for feature areas within the shop, such as the fine wine area.

Store manager, James Halliday, said: “We can now offer our customers more than 600 beers including 150 chilled beers in our new in-store fridges, while maintaining our large range of wines and spirits. It also gives customers more space to move around the shop. The cherry on the top is that the shop now has air-conditioning to help keep all of our products at the right temperature.”

Halliday confirmed retail sales since March have been strong, although the company’s wholesale arm has taken a hit.

He said: “Our online sales grew by more than 1000% and the shops were effectively call centres for a while.

“Sales have been great on the retail side and we are humbled by the support we have had from both old and new customers.”

Halliday also confirmed craft beer has been successful for the store for the last few years and this prompted the decision to enhance the offer.

He said: “We got lucky with the craft beer trend when about seven years ago a regular customer of ours asked we could get in a beer called Gamma Ray by Beavertown Brewery. He promised if we couldn’t sell it, he would buy the case. I don’t think there are many beer stockists out there who can say they had the original Gamma Ray in bottles.

“The rest is history, year-on-year the number of craft beer customers grew and so did our range. Where possible we like to work directly with the breweries. It takes more time but it means our customers get the freshest beers at the best prices. Our core range is made up of about 100 beers from all over the world, while the other 500 or so are one-off specials.

“We also have more than 70 beers from Sussex, more than 80 from Scandinavia, 25 from the US and at least 40 Belgian styles. We are always on the hunt for new beers, whether it’s a one-off special or an addition to our core range. We are also seeing a growth in demand for interesting craft cider.”

The company has also expanded the beer offering in its Hurstpierpoint shop, which is also now fully open for customers.

South Downs Cellars won the Independent Drinks Retailer of the year at the 2020 ceremony of DRA’s Drinks Retailing Awards, which took place in February this year.