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Motor City Wine uncorks a new business model

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Up above Woodward Avenue, in a second-floor space in downtown Detroit, a new kind of wine shop is making gains. It's Motor City Wine (608 Woodward Ave.; 313-483-7283), run by husband-and-wife team David and Melissa Armin-Parcells. Hundreds of bottles of wine line the walls, and on this Friday afternoon, a steady stream of customers comes in, tastes a few glasses of wine, and leaves with a bottle or two.

Taking a break, David — a Montreal-born sommelier who's been in the wine business for 15 years, 10 of them as a buyer for Whole Foods — explains why he set up shop in this hidden walk-up downtown. "Other than Cost Plus," he says, "there are no wine shops near downtown — and there are no good wine bars in the area. And we focus on wines that are good values. Half the inventory costs less than $15, and the most expensive wines are around $50, and even those are values. No grocery store brands, and we get new wines all the time. This month alone we got 20 new kinds."

That spirit of creativity extends to the duo's business plan. Their nontraditional sales space also shares its sales license with the Grand Trunk Pub downstairs. Consulting and sales to the restaurant's customers are a factor, and the foodies downstairs often get curious and check out their tasting room.

"Sometimes," David says, "you gotta go DIY. Being on a budget really forces an owner to be more creative."

And David describes business as "pretty solid." "We figured out what we wanted to sell in a wine shop, then we added the tasting room later," figuring that the taste-then-buy experience was essential to pleasing customers. Special events also are a draw. They host live jazz jam sessions from Skeeto Valdez on Wednesdays, and, usually on the fourth Friday of a month, they have tastings that can draw as many as 50 to 60 people, with spreads of cheese and other hors d'oeuvres, and part-time DJ David picking the right chill-out tunes.

And the Armin-Parcellses are no snobs. Asked about what sort of wine goes well with a corn dog, they admit with a laugh that Champagne pairs well with an order of White Castle. Melissa takes the opportunity to explain their ethos: "Our whole thing is to not be pretentious. You can have fun with wine, and try different things without spending a lot of money."

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