The 60-foot-long sign can be seen from space, or at least from the I5 ship canal bridge.
And that’s part of the reason David LeClaire decided to open Wine World, his new vino superstore, in Wallingford.
“The sign is absolutely key to what we are doing" he told me. "I expect traffic reporters will soon be saying, ‘Traffic is slowing down at Wine World.’ It will be an icon, like the Rainier brewery sign.”
The store below is huge, 23,000 square-feet huge, but don’t expect the wine-store equivalent of Office Max (the prior occupant. Before Office Max it was a Sheraton, the zoning that allowed for LeClaire’s massive red signage was grandfathered in from the building’s hotel days). Wine World looks upscale, with chocolate brown accent walls, shiny cork floors, two long tasting bars, a lounge area with Wi-Fi, and an event space with views of Mt. Rainier, downtown, and Lake Washington. Every night the tasting bars will feature select wineries, images of which will flash on the many flat-screen televisions that hang around the place. Besides wine, the store will feature fresh flowers, cheeses, chocolate and charcuterie, plus some wine-themed gifts. And of course, more wine than you’ve ever seen in one place.
On the eve of the opening, I caught up with a fairly frenzied LeClaire to find out what the whole Wine World thing is about.
Why did you want to open this type of wine store, rather than a cozy, neighborhood wine shop?
A bookstore is a great analogy. A neighborhood bookstore serves a great purpose. It’s convenient and intimate and you know all the staff. But sometimes you just want selection – then you go to Barnes and Noble. This kind of model exists in other parts of the country, but no one has done it in Seattle. I fantasized about opening one for the last four years, but the space had to be perfect. I thought this one was, but I figured Office Max would never leave. Then a year ago, I came by and they were gone.
How will Wine World impact Seattle’s wine culture?
We’ll have the largest retail brick-and-mortar section of Northwest wine in the world. That’s the front of the store. The back is the rest of the world.
I think we will really open up Northwest wine drinkers to wines from beyond the Northwest. People are really getting intrigued by other places like Argentina and Spain. Also, we’re making it an experience, like a Starbucks or a Barnes and Noble. Wine can easily be pretentious and people can be put off. People in the Northwest want warmth–in the space and from the employees. We have that here.
What will be your biggest challenge?
The fact that we’ve got to do a lot of wine to stay in business. Serious volume. We’ve got to do a great job of selling.
What’s your favorite part of this opening frenzy?
That guy over there (pointing to a gentleman who had found a cart and was shopping). We just got our occupancy permit yesterday. People have been banging on the doors asking when we would be open. Today [November 30] we gave up and have quietly starting selling. It’s exciting to me that people can’t wait for us to even officially open.
Wine World officially opens at 11am on December 1, with an inaugural celebration from 6 to 9pm. The address is 400 NE 45th in Wallingford, right off I5.
Just look for the sign. You can’t miss it.