It's never been easy to sell wine at retail, regardless of the economy, and now two of Belltown's fine wine shops--the only two, really--are departing. The Local Vine, at the corner of Second and Vine in the McGuire Building, is being forced out because the entire structure will be dismantled over the next 12 months. And a block away, at Second and Wall, Seattle Cellars is just going to close the doors.
According to Seattle Cellars owner Scott Haugh, "With the downturn in the economy in general, and the lackluster business climate in Belltown in particular, the momentum is not sufficient to carry on." The impending dismantling of the McGuire, with the prospect of dumpsters, street closings, noise, and dust doesn"t make for retail optimism, either.
Still, it's not all that bleak for wine retailers like Richard Kinssies, whose Seattle Wine Outlet business model doesn't require stocking a wide variety of labels, just stacks of well-priced case lots. Kinssies just opened a third outlet (in Greenwood) and has plans for a fourth. "It's better to expand during a downturn," he says, "so that you're ready (for) business when the economy recovers."
Seattle's leading independent wine retailer, Esquin Cellars, is similarly optimistic. Says manager Alisha Gosline, "It's a bummer when any wine retailer closes, since we're all on the same team." But Esquin is nimble enough to buy large quantities when wineries or distributors go out of business or sell closeout lots, and they also sell a lot of wine online.
Michael Teer at Pike & Western, in the Market, puts it best: "Belltown's just a tough neighborhood for any business these days."