Above the door of Princeton's Liquors in Maple Grove hangs a sign that boasts: “Voted Best Liquor Store in the Universe.” It is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but after more than seven decades in the business and 40 years in the same location, it's clear that the family-owned liquor store really is universally loved.
The Princetons’ legacy began in 1926, when William and Cora Princeton purchased a restaurant in Osseo. When prohibition was repealed in 1934, the restaurant transitioned into a tavern, a process that went smoothly since the Princetons may or may not have been surreptitiously selling booze during the ban. “I always say the Princetons have legally been in business for 77 years,” laughs Bill Princeton, William's grandson.
In 1966, Princeton’s expanded into an off-sale store next to the tavern, and in 1979, the family opened a second liquor store in Maple Grove. Both locations are still open today, though the restaurant closed.
When William grew seriously ill, his son, Joel, took over the family business—reluctantly. He was working on a master's degree in sociology at the time, but as an only child, felt an obligation to help out at the store.
That was 50 years ago. He hasn't left since. “I can honestly say I've never had a day that I didn't like coming in here,” he says.
A Family Affair
Joel's wife, Sue, handles the accounting for the Maple Grove store, but Joel never intended on hiring any of his kids. He happened to be short a worker one night and asked Bill to fill in.
Like his dad, Bill grew to love the family business. He now runs the Maple Grove store, where Joel still works almost every day. Meanwhile, Joel and Sue’s daughter, Kelli, handles accounting for the Osseo store where her husband, Nick, is the manager.
As loyal as the family is to their business, their customers are equally faithful. One of Princeton’s many long-time supporters is Gary Lee, who has been shopping there since he moved to Maple Grove in 1987.
“Princeton’s knows its customer base very well,” Gary says. “They’re knowledgeable and very friendly—when they know you and your tastes, they’re excited to find something new for you to try.”
The Princetons’ fame extends beyond Maple Grove – people around the Twin Cities know Bill for his expertise in microbrews, and believe it or not, the family is sometimes recognized around the country. Joel was once approached by a customer while vacationing with his family in DisneyWorld. “I can be sitting in a bar in New York City and someone will recognize me,” Joel says.
And Joel loves his customers as much as they love him, which is why he has no plans to retire: “They’re going to find me on the floor of the store someday, carry me out and say, ‘He had a good career.’”
Holiday Recommendations from Princeton’s:
Who better to recommend a holiday cocktail than owners of a liquor store? Here are two ideas from Bill Princeton to spice up any party:
Southern Tier’s Imperial Choklat Stout
Supplement (or completely replace!) your traditional dessert with this 11-percent-alcohol beer, which tastes like a piece of chocolate melted down, given carbonation and served cold. Choklat is a non-beer-drinker’s dream and a beer nerd’s treat. Definitely a fun beer to share with family after your meal has been served. $8.99.
Bill’s Grown-Up Dessert
4 oz. Adult Chocolate Milk (sold at Princeton’s)
1 oz. UV Cake flavored vodka
CREAM Caramel alcohol-infused whipped cream
Mix the Chocolate Milk and vodka together over ice, top with whipped cream.
Adult Chocolate Milk is a 40-proof version of your favorite school time beverage, while CREAM is a punched-up alternative to that pressurized red-can stuff. If you’re not wild about either, Bill recommends drinking the cake-flavored vodka straight – it’s that good!
12790 Bass Lake Road, Maple Grove; 763.559.3257
341 Osseo; 763.425.4646