Downtown Chelsea’s New Beer & Wine Store: Withington’s

Friend offers a new perspective on the beverage industry.

As favorite shops and restaurants began to reopen toward the end of 2021, there also arose a number of new businesses keen to revitalize downtown areas eager for something new. Withington’s, Chelsea’s new beer and wine shop, made its debut during the holiday season, offering a unique selection built on proprietor Jay Friend’s long experience in the beverage industry.

Before opening Withington’s, Friend had been in the wine business for twenty years. “I’ve always wanted to have my own store,” he said, and when an opportunity arose to set up downtown and fill a need left by the closure of Chelsea’s previous wine shop, “I thought I would give it a shot.”

Friend’s experience in the wine business started with working in a retail store in Kalamazoo during college, though most of his career involved him working as a sales rep for a wholesaler. Recently, Friend had also worked for a meadery, giving him another view on beverages.

“Having the background of the wholesale side of the industry really helps,” he said. Aside from the business knowledge this experience provides, Friend added that “basically everybody I know is in the industry.” “Doing wine groups, tasting socially for twenty years has helped me develop my tasting and then working with the meadery gave me a different perspective,” he said. 

As to what he’s enjoying most about Withington’s, Friend said that his new role grants him exposure to even more great wines than was possible with the wholesaler and his other previous positions. “Being a small business now, I see the small wineries a little differently. I didn’t have that perspective a few years ago, it was more of a commodity,” he said. He added that the response from Chelsea has been fantastic. “The reception so far from the community has been exactly what I hoped for. Everybody seems to be really happy to explore and try new things. Everybody asks how I’m doing, how’s the business, and wanting to promote me on their own.”

Friend began preparing for the store in August 2021 by applying for his state license to operate a wine and beer retail store, but approval did come through until December. “I rushed to get inventory and open my doors,” he said. Withington’s officially opened December 18. “Luckily I was able to get some holiday sales.”

Opening a new business can be challenging, even more so in a world of constantly-evolving health and guidelines resulting from the COVID pandemic. Friend is optimistic that conditions are improving, as people return to restaurants and outdoor events begin again. “There are a lot of festivals that Chelsea puts on. Sounds and Sights coming up in June, We just had Chocolate Extravaganza and saw a lot of foot traffic and a lot of tourism. I’m really optimistic for the customers to keep coming in and finding our space.” 

Friend said that it’s been exciting to focus on “the creativity of great wine and beer.” “We have a great non-alcoholic selection,” he added. While Friend said that his strong suit up to now has been wine, he’s having a great time branching out. “I just did a non-alcoholic sampling over at our neighbor store, Agricole Farm Stop. I love the creativity in beverages, whether it’s alcohol or not.” Withington’s also has on display a number of paintings by Friend’s father. “This store is a culmination of my life up to this point,” he said.

Withington’s is located at 112 N. Main St. Chelsea, MI 48118. More information can be found on their website, withingtons-shop.square.site.

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