Blend Wine Shop closed its doors — eventually — for the last time Oct. 30.
The beloved Key Center wine shop was preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary Oct. 8 when the property owner, Sound Credit Union, announced it would be doubling the rent from $800 to $1,600 a month, according to owner Don Swensen.
With a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections requiring a return to masks and renewed capacity restrictions in his shop, he called the situation “unsustainable.”
Swensen had been interested in selling the business and retiring before Covid hit, but vowed to ride out the pandemic.
The “stupid idea” of opening a wine shop in Key Center a decade ago by KP residents Jeff and Dayl Minch quickly took root in the community against all expectations, except their own.
“I had people come by and say it was the dumbest thing they’d ever heard of; it was stupid,” said Jeff Minch about opening his shop. “They’d say, ‘Don’t you realize where you’re at? You’re on the Key Peninsula.’ But that just told me it was the right thing to do.”
The regular Friday night wine tastings became a standing-room-only ritual where community members who rarely saw each other met and mingled.
“Blend isn’t a place or a business so much as a philosophy and an avenue to experience the energy of a real public house setting,” Minch said. “I was very grateful to have somebody like Don and Molly to pass it on to, to be able to keep that energy going.”
The Minches sold the business to loyal customers Don and Molly Swensen in 2014, who continued to carve out a unique niche and fill it with community meetings, artists of all stripes, lonely musicians and itinerant cribbage players.
“The KP has a bunch of communities out here,” said Blend regular — or Blender — Ron Cameron. “The Blend is one of them. No agendas, no dues, just Blenders sharing thoughts pertinent or impertinent, remembered or not remembered, on every and anything; dandelions, red wine, traffic; the way politics used to be, respectful, and music and more music and art, and you could go or miss and still be a part of it.”
And the Blenders did not go quietly.
When the news broke, a resistance group of disaffected oenophiles swiftly formed to complain to SCU, pledge funds to buy the business, and to find a new venue. State and local politicians, some of whom had been known to visit Blend on occasion, offered high caliber assistance.
A few days later, “I got a call from the CEO of Sound Credit Union,” Swensen said. “Now the rent was down to $1,000. But he also said they were going to tear down the building in the next 18 months and put in a new credit union branch with four retail spaces. Maybe Blend could be in one of those. Maybe, but it won’t be by me.”
“I can’t go into all the details regarding the negotiations and the contract to that extent,” said Jennifer Reed, vice president of public relations for SCU, “but I can say that our president and CEO, Don Clark, did talk to the owner of Blend Wine Shop and did discuss with him how we could work with him to keep his doors open because it’s important to us that we are supporting community businesses out there in the Key Center area.”
Reed said it was too early to say what will happen with the two parcels SCU owns in Key Center, but “we are looking to rebuild that area, the retail space that we have as well as our branch, in two to three years. Our goal is to develop all of that space.”
After attempts to retain or relocate the business failed, Blend closed Oct. 30. Wine racks were cleared and kegs were drained as The Mind Blenders, an ad hoc mélange of singers and guitar, brass, woodwind and washboard players, along with too many drummers, backed up Swensen playing a custom-built “Blend Bass” while his son-in-law, Jeff Frederick, ended the night belting out his weekly rendition of Big Al Carlson’s “Take Your Drunken Ass Home” for the last time.
“It has been a fantastic experience and a distinct honor to get to know so many great members of our community and to contribute in whatever way we could to making the KP a friendlier, more enjoyable place to live,” Swensen said.
“People will keep it alive,” said Clark Snyder, one of many lead guitarists in the band. “What’s special about this place is the people in it, and that’s not over.”
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