Greenbank farm gets out of gift business

Gordon Grant, wine bar manger at the Greenbank Farm, expects wine sales to increase when the bar is moved into the space formerly occupied by the gift shop. - Jim Larsen
Gordon Grant, wine bar manger at the Greenbank Farm, expects wine sales to increase when the bar is moved into the space formerly occupied by the gift shop.
— image credit: Jim Larsen

Greenbank Farm will soon stop selling gifts, except for those whose idea of a gift is a bottle of wine.

“We’re going to stop selling gifts and focus on wine,” said Laura Blankenship, the farm’s executive director, on Wednesday.

Blankenship said the farm’s board of directors recently studied a financial analysis of the farm’s store. “We lose as much on gifts as we make on wine,” Blankenship said. In addition, the store has not been selling many locally made goods and products, which is one of the farm’s goals.

The publicly-owned farm is headed by the board, whose president is M. Clarke Harvey. Harvey said this year was particularly poor for the store’s income, due in part to the tourism crash after Sept. 11. “It wasn’t generating the money we need to support the organization,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve got to raise money to keep the doors open and the projects going.”

The farm store was selling such items as picture frames, baskets, pottery and glassware, “like all the other gift shops on Whidbey Island,” said Blankenship. But few of the items were made on the island.

Local goods and products are instead being sold in the farm’s weekend markets, held about 23 weekends throughout the year. Blankenship said those efforts will continue. “We’re trying to fulfill our mission,” she said.

In late December, the farm laid off the store’s gift buyer and two retail clerks. The store’s inventory will be sold until gone.

When the store is emptied, the successful wine sales area will be moved to the front of the building, giving it more visibility and easier access to the public. Blankenship said hopes are to lease out the old wine sales area to a private business, perhaps a coffee shop.

Gordon Grant, wine bar manager, said the wine store specializes in selling the products of small wineries in this area. Customers can sample a wine for 50 cents and select from a variety of vintages. Besides wine, Grant hopes to sell wine accessories and, perhaps, wine making equipment.

The 522-acre farm became public property in 1997 after the previous owner, Chateau Ste. Michelle, announced plans to sell to developers. Island County, the Port of Coupeville and the Nature Conservancy stepped in and paid $2.8 million to save the farm.

Blankenship said the store dates back to the Ste. Michelle days, when the big regional winery sold a lot through its Greenbank store. “People thought it was going to be a cash cow,” she said. “But we can’t do what Ste. Michelle did. They were wholesaling out of there.”

The hope is that increased wine sales will boost the farm’s revenues. Blankenship said that approach will likely do better than the store. “It wasn’t even supporting its own operation,” she said.

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