After complaining about the lack of Pennsylvania-brewed liquor options offered at state stores, Emily Leone Honhart set out to change things and emerged from her pandemic bubble as an independent liquor store owner.
WESTMORELAND COUNTY — While the COVID pandemic isn’t really over, Emily Leone Honhart is already living her “new normal.”
Honhart is the proud owner of a new boutique bottle shop on Main Street in Ligonier, Westmoreland County. She opened Wandering Spirits on a block of women-owned businesses in October.
“It has been so much fun,” Honhart said. “And I’ve been so well-received. This is where I live, where my children go to school. I wanted to invest in my town.”
Honhart, 37, wasn’t a business owner at the start of the pandemic almost two years ago. She was a consultant for businesses and nonprofits, helping “behind the scenes” with business development, marketing, and event planning.
COVID-19 caused her to change course.
“During the pandemic, my neighbors and I would get together around a bonfire in our backyards while our kids would play,” Honhart said. “This was our little bubble.”
The handful of friends would take turns bringing different spirits made in Pennsylvania to the gathering.
“We would always end up talking about how there weren’t enough options. You were limited to what’s offered at the state stores unless you were able to physically go to the distillery or winery.”
That’s when Honhart got the idea for her shop. She said the state has some great, locally made brands of spirits and she wanted to feature these craft brands—all under the same roof.
“I wanted to keep it small,” Honhart said. “I did not want brands that had a wide distribution. So I started prospecting for small, very high quality wineries and distilleries in the state.”
Navigating Pennsylvania’s Strict and Strange Liquor Laws
Honhart spent over a year getting a crash course in the state’s liquor laws through her attorney and by doing her own research. She worked with her attorney to secure all the necessary approvals and pass several site inspections. She placed countless follow-up calls to keep the whole process moving.
“I was pretty ambitious,” Honhart said. “I wanted to get it done.”
That was the easy part.
The hard part was housing them under one roof.
“The way the liquor code is written, the distilleries and wineries can’t coexist,” Honhart said.
That meant separate cash registers, separate storage spaces, and rules governing interior connections.
“It’s one store front, but there are two side-by-side doors to get in,” Honhart said. “I needed a partition that had to be a specific length separating the entrances. The products are on two different sides of the store. I have two different registers that had to be anchored on separate pieces of furniture.”
Then, she had to contact each company whose products she wanted to carry. Distilleries and wineries—the licensees—are allowed to open up to five satellite locations in addition to their primary facility. Honhart personally reached out to a number of Pennsylvania-based spirit makers, such as Altered State, Blackbird, Kingfly, and Lucky Sign distilleries, as well as B&L Wine Cellars and Tattiebogle Ciderworks; each of them had to apply for a secondary location permit to be able to sell in Honhart’s store.
The result was Wandering Spirits, an independent liquor store that sells Pennsylvania-made spirits, wines, and hard ciders. Even the non-alcoholic mixers, food, and barware are made in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board does not keep track of all the independent stores in the state that serve as satellite locations for local distilleries and wineries, PLCB spokesperson Shawn Kelly said. He did know of one other independent liquor store, Pennsylvania Libations in Pittsburgh. It opened a few months before Honhart’s store.
“When this idea came along, I knew it would not work anywhere but in Ligonier,” Honhart said. “It’s a charming town and very touristy. And just perfect for my shop.”
Honhart said her clientele is a mix of local patrons and out-of-town visitors. No matter where they are from, though, Honhart is available to answer questions about the different products and provides samples of the spirits upon request.
“It has been so much fun,” Honhart said. “I offer product knowledge you won’t get at a state store.”
With her easy-going nature and sociable personality, Honhart said her new business venture suits her well.
“This fits,” she said. “Everything came together and has worked out well and it just fits me.”