VALPARAISO – During Val Days last summer, a group of local women introduced the community to their unique business model – pairing wine tasting with shopping.
Since then, Vintage Cork Tasting Room and Boutique has become a full-fledged business, officially opening at the end of October.
The unique concept started with an idea dreamed up by Valparaiso resident Deb Meyer. Meyer said she believes life is too short not to reach for your dreams, and one of her dreams was to do something that included a few of her favorite things – like wine and clothes.
“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun?’” she recalled.
As Meyer was getting her hair done in the local salon, Shear Paradise, she conveyed the idea to her stylist, Jamie Johnson, who is also the salon’s owner. Johnson relayed the information to her mother, Cheryl Novacek, who also talked to her neighbor, Kathy Bohac. Soon all of them were working together to make the dream a reality.
They brought in Tammie Holley, who owned the Val Tavern with her late husband Jim for 17 years. Her expertise in securing the liquor license and other paperwork was invaluable, the group said.
Holley said every one of the five women has unique ideas and talents they bring to the operation.
“We all have different experiences that really add to the whole thing,” she said.
They felt the ideal location for their new business would be in the town where they all live – Valparaiso. The women wanted to fill some of empty buildings in the downtown area that were vacated as small businesses dried up over the last several decades.
The building next to Shear Paradise was available. It has a rich history in the community, having been a roller rink, movie theater and church hall over the years, according to Novacek. She remembered serving at wedding receptions when it was a church hall.
Novacek and Johnson had a connection to the building. It was owned by Novacek’s parents and Johnson’s grandparents, the Bureshes, who operated a family plumbing business in Valparaiso for decades.
Once a lease was secured, the group set out to freshen up the building with lots of hard work. There was a coat of new paint and the floors and paneling, all original, were sanded and sealed.
“Then the elbow grease went into it,” said Bohac.
All of the work not done by the women was performed by local businesses, they added.
The décor includes more pieces of Val’s history. The wine rack is a parts shelf originally used in Buresh Plumbing. Historic photos of the community illustrate the bar.
Evidence of the building’s former versions can be seen in a bit of stairs and railing that peek out from a wall near the behind the bar. During renovations, a workman found an old metal skate in the crawlspace under the building, Novacek said, and they have incorporated it into their décor as an ode to the past.
Filling the wine shelf and clothing racks was the next step. Their wine selections are from Nebraska vineyards like Whiskey Run Creek in Brownville, Glacial Till in Palmyra, Nissen Wine in Hartington and Niobrara Valley Vineyards in the Sandhills area. They also serve craft beers from local breweries.
They rely on customer input to determine which wines and beers to carry.
“We’re learning people’s favorites and that helps us out,” said Bohac.
Two of the ladies attended a special market in Dallas to choose which clothing to carry in the boutique. They debuted many of their selections at the Valparaiso Woman’s Club style show in October to rave reviews.
One of the best methods they have used to show off their inventory is to wear the items themselves.
“We’ve sold a lot of clothes because we wear the stuff while working,” said Holley.
They have a fitting room so customers can try on the clothes before buying.
“On a hangar, it looks totally different,” said Meyer. “We want people to like what they’re buying.”
They also allow customers to “try on” the wines by giving them tasting samples.
“We want them to taste it before they buy a bottle,” said Meyer. “We want them to have a good experience.”
The boutique also carries accessories, some that are wine-centered.
“We have purses that have wine holders,” said Novacek. “They are kind of unique.”
Many of their other selections are one-of-a-kind, having been made by local artists and crafts people.
“We are trying to highlight and spotlight local artisans,” said Holley.
They have jewelry made by Bee Crafty (Rhonda Kovac and Nancy Dolezal), Tender and Fierce (Barb Ohnoutka) and A&E Creations (Bailey Jisa). Two of their tables are not only for customers to sit at while they sip wine, but are also for sale. They were made by Tyler Martin of Valparaiso.
The partners said business has been great so far. Customers enjoy the “homey” atmosphere, said Meyer.
“That’s what we like to hear,” she added. “They sit and talk, visit, have a drink and enjoy.”
Valparaiso area residents also have been strong supporters of the venue.
“We’ve had a lot of people say, ‘I just like coming in here because it’s local,’” said Holley.
Johnson said she appreciates the work and effort everyone has done to make the business a success.
“This is an awesome place,” she said.
Judging by their support from local customers and those coming in from other area, it would seem many agree.