The Buffalo retail wine scene hasn’t really had any big news in some time. The existing players have owned the market for years – think Premier, Global, Gates Circle, etc., with very few upstarts. Aside from the new liquor superstore opening on Amherst Street, 2014 was fairly quiet. Well, it’s a new year, and Paula Paradise and Lauren Kostek are going to try shake things up by creating an entirely new wine retail concept in the Five Points area.
Maybe you’ve already heard about organic wines, and possibly even biodynamic, both of which have generated a lot of buzz in wine circles. Both are primarily concerned with growing grapes in an additive-free, holistic manner, to address a market shift that parallels the same ‘organic food’ movement already taking hold in retail grocery (seen how much space the Wegman’s “organic food” section is sitting on lately?).
Paula and Lauren’s venture, Paradise Wine, will be targeting this nascent market head on. They plan to open up this specialty wine store later in March at 435 Rhode Island Drive, smack in the middle of the increasingly popular Five Points area. The key value prop for Paradise is that it will feature a wide selection of only organic and environmentally sustainable wines selected personally by Paula, a locally celebrated wine expert. Lest you think this is just another high-end specialty boutique for the 1%, the pair insists their mission is to make these category wines accessible to everyone. They emphasize that they will cater to all budgets, and not fall into the “Whole Foods” trap of carrying organic products that are priced out of reach for most consumers.
A little history here: Paula and Lauren have been best friends for over fifteen years and have been involved in other business ventures together. In speaking with them, one quickly sizes up the roles each will be playing in their new venture. Paula’s definitely the wine talent and brand, while Lauren comes across as a seasoned business generalist with roots in development and real estate. Interestingly enough, they are also both English Lit majors from UB.
Paula’s one of those interesting people whose career path has made a couple of sharp turns over the years, starting off as a trained pastry chef before serendipitously making her way over to the wine side of the business. She previously spent twelve years at Premier Wine & Spirits, which gave Paula a chance to visit and experience all the major winemaking regions in the world, and put her in touch with valuable contacts. While at Premier, she oversaw all wine education events, and gained a lot of knowledge about the local winemaking community. It was in dealing with her customers at Premier that Paula first sensed a need for organic wines: “…I noticed that many people were concerned about environmental and health issues with wine… the seed was planted.”
In fact, with her special talent for picking winners out of the myriad lesser-known wines, Paula’s gained quite a following amongst local oenophiles. “…A HUGE following…”, Lauren emphasizes. Small wonder many have been pushing Paula to open her own wine store for some time, and are rallying strongly behind her. “We’ve known Paula for many years… she has a vast wine knowledge and always steers us in the right direction for our wine choices,” explains Pat Baker, one of her many fans. A customer that has known Paula since her Premier days, Rob Collard appreciates her acuity in selecting the perfect bottle “Paula was always gracious in sharing her on-point wine recommendations.”
The other half of the team, Lauren is a seasoned broker with Gurney, Becker and Bourne Realty, and a vigorous promoter of Buffalo real-estate preservation. She’s reluctant to classify to herself as an activist, but has a history of involving herself with local projects aligned with the protection of historic sites. Like Paula, Lauren is passionate about Buffalo and in particular the Five Points area. “We are both long-time customers of Left Bank, Essex Pub, and Five Points Bakery,” notes Lauren.
The purchase and subsequent renovation of the new site, which is in close proximity to established area businesses such as Urban Roots, is a story in itself. The pair purchased the property from Rob Stuhr with an unsolicited bid back in 2012, after deciding that it was going to be the ideal location for their venture. The building was used as a hardware store in a previous life, and came with an additional windfall – offstreet customer parking. What followed was two years of extensive renovations and fit-up, with Lauren acting as the general contractor, using her years of real estate experience. The unique design work of the space was the responsibility of J-M Reed, a designer whose touches are found throughout the store. “I’m excited to see people’s reactions to J-M’s beautiful design choices,” explains Lauren. It’s evident there’s been a lot of thought and creativity put into the layout of the store’s interior, which is described more in terms of a work of art than a retail space.
In addition to creating a unique wine store, Paula and Lauren hope to make Paradise Wine a community fixture and an active participant in the local arts scene.
Like other wine retailers, Paradise will offer tastings and wine classes, taught by Paula herself. Going further, she’s going to draw upon her industry contacts to help set up a speaker series, featuring local winemakers.
Paradise is attempting to break new ground by using social media as a touchpoint for its customer base. As an example, it plans to create “flash sales” on Twitter to give followers access to time-limited specials on a given afternoon. “It’s all about interacting more with our customers”, explains Lauren.
Including and supporting the local arts scene was foundational to both Paula and Lauren, with their love of art, literature, and poetry. “It’s important to us that we support local artists,” explains Paula. Art shows will be scheduled regularly, along with local artists being invited to display their talents through exhibitions. As a retail concept, this promises to be interesting.
Pushing the envelope further, how about creating a ‘child-friendly’ wine store? Paula’s six year-old daughter, Olive, is a budding wine protegé who already has the vocabulary of the wine cognoscenti nailed down. Paula plans to keep Olive with her in the store, and has set up a separate area with comfy chairs where Olive can hold court with customers or get lost in one of her books.
Bring up the issue of locating in Five Points, and both owners effuse about their love of the area and how delighted they are to play a role in its revitalization. Putting on her real estate hat, Lauren rhymes off all the business reasons why it made so much sense to locate there, and likens the area to Elmwood Village before it became… well… Elmwood Village. All the ingredients are there – rising property values, an influx of young families, and the accelerated expansion of the retail and restaurant scene drawing more customer traffic. Aside from the cold practicality of attractive market demographics, Paula and Lauren see their store as playing a catalyzing role in revitalizing the area. As Lauren points out, “The neighbourhood was already great, and we just knew we wanted to be at Five Points. So many good people had paved the way for us to come in and create something unique and special.”
It’s great to see another vote of confidence for the Five Points area, and looking forward to the Grand Opening of Paradise Wines in March.