Bay Grape Bottle Shop Starts Trial on In-Person Sales

Interior of Bay Grape in Oakland. (Becca Wyant / Bay Grape)

Bay Area businesses are starting to open up after three months of sheltering in place. One of those is Bay Grape in Oakland.

On Tuesday, the bottle shop announced that it will start a trial for in-person sales with limited hours on May 27. Before this, the shop only offered pickup for online orders.

"So much of the soul of what we do has really been stripped away," says co-owner Stevie Stacionis, who typically gives customers lots of personalized attention, matchmaking them with rare wines suited to their tastes. "It's honestly felt really lonely. I'm still not confident about what needs to happen to let guests in, but there's no reason to not play sommelier, to bring back that curated experience."

With the new model, customers still won't be allowed into the store. Instead, they'll wait outside, wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines. While they can still preorder online, this new option allows them to consult Bay Grape staff about particular wines and get suggestions. It's a little like browsing the store without going inside.

A recent conversation with a customer reminded Stacionis of what she misses most about her old ways of doing business. Now, she hopes to recreate the social aspect of the store on a smaller scale and with adherence to public health regulations. "It was a special occasion with her partner, and she wanted to pick up a bottle of Barolo or Barbera from a certain vintage," Stacionis recalls. She didn't know if she would have something that rare, but after going to the back, she ended up finding a bottle and asking the woman if she knew about the grape or region. The woman said no, and Stacionis started to explain the story of the wine.

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"It was kind of like this out of body experience," says Stacionis. "I was like 'Wow, I'm good at this.' It made me really emotional. Telling these stories is why I started doing this business in the first place, and I hadn't gotten to do that in over a month. We all want this level of interaction back. It was the most delightful moment of shared humanity."

Stacionis hopes that this new model of operation will offer more opportunities for connection, unlike the "warehouse"-like quality of only processing online orders.

Earlier in May, Bay Grape also announced that it was going to supply wine and beer to Sac Brew Bike. Owned by Stacionis's sister, Sarah Ferren-Cirino, Sac Brew Bike operated as a pedal pub, which would take people on bicycle pub crawls throughout the city. With coronavirus and the shelter-in-place orders, the business was pretty much shut down, says Stacionis. So they opened their inventory up as a Sacramento pop-up. It's seen a lot of success, and it might mean a more permanent Sacremento location for Bay Grape.

"We'll see what happens after shelter-in-place is lifted," says Stacionis. "We never thought we'd open up in Sacramento, but anything could happen." Stacionis hinted at possibly continuing to operate a warehouse model in Sacramento or looking for a more permanent brick-and-mortar after restrictions are lifted.