Lucky Seven Years

We have a dollar bill taped to the old cash register where we keep our bills and coins at Wine & Words (The Original) in Belhaven. Written on it in pencil is "4/24/2002." It was the day Yvonne and I opened our doors for business and received that dollar bill as part of a cash payment on a piece of cheese and a box of crackers. That was 7 years ago Friday. We had no idea what we were getting into.

Here's how the store looked then.

We had about 20 different wines we'd decided on from a friendly distributor who clued us in to just how this wine business thing was usually done. And we had some coffee (anyone remember "Belhaven Breakfast Blend"?). And a bunch of used books, mostly from my own library. And the first edition of Quickbooks Point of Sale, a computer program "cash register" that was almost as inexperienced as we were. And a funny, alliterative business name that had been suggested by our daughter Carmella. We were in business.

That wasn't our intention when we moved down to coastal Carolina from Raleigh. We had actually intended to be comfortably retired on the nest egg we tucked away from the proceeds of the support services business I had sold to a big national provider. Then 9/11 happened. I know you remember. Everything changed. The nest egg cracked and started leaking onto our plans. So, like a lot of people in these current troubled times, we decided to look for a Plan B. We had always thought it would be "fun" to have a little store to sell some of the things we loved - wine, great food, books. We had looked at the derelict old building on Pamlico Street and when the owner accepted our ridiculously low offer, we decided to go for it. That was the end of December 2001.

It took four months to reawaken the old building. It needed electricity, plumbing, heating/air conditioning, windows, a new floor. I remember working in the unheated space for long days in February, hauling many large dumpsters of demolition debris, going from being the "laborer" to being "the owner" when the DeHoog Builders crew needed a decision. Yvonne and I did much of the finishing and painting work ourselves. We bought tables and counters from an antique barn in Chocowinity. We set up a gallery space in what had been Mary Windley Willis' apartment. Those were heady times.

It took a while before people other than our friends started to find us and trickle in as customers. Either Yvonne or I could run the store by ourselves. There were afternoons when we'd pour a couple of cups of coffee and sit down with a visitor for a few hours of wide-ranging conversation. It was easy.

Here we are 7 years later, and things have changed a lot. We built the Back Bay Cafe on the spot where the little gallery had been, a massive project that took the entire summer of 2004. And we opened Wine & Words II in Washington. Now we have 3 employees, many vendors, and a mailing list with over 600 names. The whole works keeps us busier than we've ever been in our working lives. We've learned so much, made many new friends.

Now, 7 years after the economic downturn that nudged us into cranking up Plan B, the larger financial world is doing it again. People are scared, closing their wallets, saving their money. But our supporters keep coming in. And we just keep working harder and, hopefully, smarter. We'll make it.

When we made our first trip to the Yadkin Valley to buy our first North Carolina wines for that first Wine & Words, we also picked up 6 bottles of Shelton Vineyards 2001 Family Reserve Claret. It was Shelton's first release, and we thought it would be fitting to lay those bottles down and have one each year on the anniversary of our new wine shop's opening. There's one bottle left. Yvonne and I won't be drinking it on Friday. We'll be serving guests at Wine & Words and The Back Bay Cafe. We'll save that special bottle for Sunday evening. We'll sit out on our back porch and toast the ups and downs, the good times and bad, the past and the future. We've come a long way in 7 years. Thanks for the ride. Cheers!

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