2013-01-24 / News

Father and son take the helm at Grapes & Gourmet

Bill and Will Wilson have ideas for minor renovations

Will Wilson (right) and his father recently purchased Grapes & Gourmet from longtime owner Frank LaPere. Amelia (left), Will’s sister, will work at the newly family-owned Ferry Wharf liquor store. 
PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH Will Wilson (right) and his father recently purchased Grapes & Gourmet from longtime owner Frank LaPere. Amelia (left), Will’s sister, will work at the newly family-owned Ferry Wharf liquor store. PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH Grapes & Gourmet may have new owners, but that doesn’t mean that they are unfamiliar with the operation of one of Jamestown’s two liquor stores. Will Wilson, who bought the business along with his father Bill, worked for former owner Frank LaPere for several years prior to expressing interest in buying the business.

After graduating from college in 2009, Wilson moved back home to Jamestown to live with his father. He is primarily an artist – he draws the “Ordinary Bill” comic strip for the Jamestown Press – but he needed to find a part-time job to help make ends meet. Store manager Paula LaBarre, LaPere’s sister, gave Wilson a job at Grapes & Gourmet. For the last three years he has committed a lot of hours to his work there.

Despite the fact that he didn’t know that the business was for sale, Wilson sensed that there might be an opportunity. LaPere had fled the New England winters to take up residence in Arizona. He had started a new business there. About one year ago the Wilsons started talking seriously about making an offer to buy Grapes & Gourmet.

“My family was coming down here all the time and it was a fun place,” Wilson said. “It’s close to our home. One day my dad said that it would be cool to own a place like this. I thought it would, too.”

Once the Wilsons had made the decision to go forward and organized their finances, Wilson casually mentioned to LaPere that if he ever had an interest in selling the store, he should speak with the Wilsons.

“He said, ‘Alright, I’ll probably talk to you sooner rather than later,’” Wilson said. “It was almost perfect timing. I had no idea that he was looking to sell that soon. We were thinking it would be later on, but it definitely worked out for both of us.”

According to Bill Wilson, it was the waterfront location of Grapes & Gourmet that appealed most to him.

“I liked the idea of owning something on the waterfront,” said Bill. “That’s what prompted the inquiry to Frank. My son Will really liked the business and he’d been there for a while. We’re from the island and we thought it would be a good move.”

Will said that the appeal of owning Grapes & Gourmet for him was the community where the business is located, and the regular customers who visit the store.

“We crank in the summer, but in the winter you see all the people that you live next to and see around town,” he said. “It’s a great community. It’s the people that made us want to stay there.”

Will said that LaPere had put together a great staff to run his business while he was away. It was the Wilsons’ commitment to keeping the staff intact that served as a major motivation for LaPere to choose their offer from the several that he received. According to the Wilsons, they have every intention of retaining the staff because the customers like them, they’re experts at what they do, and because they’re friends of his.

“The staff will be the same,” Will said. “It’s still going to be a liquor store. The fact that we weren’t going to come in and just clean house really helped our case.”

The biggest change that the Wilsons are planning involves the store’s gourmet food area. They hope to make the store a major cheese destination by reconfiguring that part of the store to accommodate a greater selection of cheeses, crackers and other food items.

There is a plan afoot to renovate the space around the gourmet section of the store to accommodate an increase in the inventory. Bill confirmed that there will be an expansion of the wine selection, and he hopes to open up some of the store’s rear windows to take better advantage of the waterview that is available.

“There’s a beautiful view of the bay, but you really can’t see it from inside,” he said. “By opening up some of the windows along the back end, you can get a more pleasant feel when you shop there.”

Grapes & Gourmet will not be closed at any time during the renovations, although the deli case may have to be closed for a day or two at some point. The liquor section, which is the store’s primary financial resource, will remain open throughout the process. Once the renovations are complete, a celebration is planned.

Will now has to divide his time between his new business and his artistic pursuits. He said that his plan is be in the store a lot, and at the same time continue his cartooning. He hopes to create a bank of cartoons in the slower winter months, which he can then tap into during the busier summer season.

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