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This article was originally published May 21, 2013.
By Evan Marczynski
The Bellingham Business Journal
Having grown up in Bellingham, Katie Bechkowiak remembers the city’s downtown as the local commercial core it was decades ago.
So when looking for a location for her new wine bar, called Vinostrology Wine Lounge & Merchant, Bechkowiak knew exactly where she wanted to be.
“I want to be supportive of downtown, because I think it has a lot of potential,” she said.
Vinostrology celebrates its grand opening at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22. The wine bar is located at 120 W. Holly St., in the former location of the Bandito’s Burritos restaurant, which closed in 2012.
The new business follows another downtown wine shop that opened in early May, Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants, which is located at 19 Prospect St.
Not surprisingly, the focus at Vinostrology is on wine.
Bechkowiak offers wine by the glass, by the bottle, and also provides customers a chance to sample more expensive varieties before purchase. In addition, the bar carries some limited food options, as well as beer.
Bechkowiak plans to employ a staff of five to six people.
For customers, what will likely be the most intriguing aspect of Vinostrology is the bar’s five electronic wine-dispensing machines, built by Napa Technology, a company from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Napa’s machines, called WineStations, can hold up to four bottles at once. They allow users to dispense wine in different quantities, including an one-ounce tasting size, a half glass and a full glass.
As a bottle is drained, spent wine is replaced with argon gas. This is to prevent the remaining wine from oxidizing and prolong the life of the bottle—Napa says an opened bottle placed in one of its machines can stay fresh for up to 60 days.
With their digital controls, the machines can also dispense wine more consistently than a manual pour, which will help cut down on waste, Bechkowiak said.
Washington state liquor laws will prohibit Vinostrology from offering self service to customers using the machines. So, the dispensers will stay behind the bar, and customers will order their wine from a bartender.
The machines provide a new gimmick to set her shop apart from competitors, but the stations also let her offer a great array of wine samples, including those from more expensive varieties that might pique the tastes of dedicated oenophiles.
It’s the vast variety of products within the winemaking industry that attracted Bechkowiak to the business in the first place. She has worked in the wine field for more than a decade and a half, she said, spending time in both retail and distribution environments.
As wine is a common element of celebrations and life milestones, being in the business is exciting and vibrant, she said.
But when Bechkowiak began developing the concept for Vinostrology more than a year ago, she wasn’t sure where her starting funds were going to come from.
Banks were out of the question. Restaurants and other establishments dealing with food and beverages carry high levels of risk—many don’t survive longer than a few years before running out of cash—and Bechkowiak said she didn’t feel confident asking a commercial lender for a business loan.
“I knew a bank probably wasn’t going to be my go-to financing place,” she said.
Instead, she turned to a team of nonprofit business-development organizations—including Western Washington University’s Small Business Development Center and the Northwest Women’s Business Center—to get help developing a business plan and find financing.
The Northwest Women’s Business Center, in turn, put her in touch with Community Capital Development, a nonprofit group in Seattle, that helped her secure a loan from the Seattle Economic Development Fund.
Bechkowiak had to make financial sacrifices to get her loan, she said, including cashing out a retirement fund in order to cover a down payment.
Once she had cash, her bar’s future Holly Street location received some updates.
Although the wall colors and other decor are different, locals who remember Bandito’s Burritos will still recognize the space. The room’s focal point is a new wood bar that sits in front of the row of dispensing machines.
Bechkowiak hopes strong sales will let her quickly expand.
She said she would like to eventually add two additional wine-dispensing machines, which would allow the shop to offer samples of up to 28 varieties at once.
Vinostrology will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays through Saturdays, from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays.