Blend Wine Shop in Key Center is more than a place to have a glass of wine—the real draw is that Blend is the place where newcomers can meet the locals and learn about the close-knit community of the Key Peninsula.
One group that meets there frequently calls themselves the Blenders. Some of them are longtime residents who have lived near each other for years but had never met until they started attending the Friday night wine tastings.
Don and Molly Swensen took over the shop four years ago with the goal of continuing what Dayl and Jeff Minch had started three years earlier. “We wanted to have the place be a community gathering site,” said Don. “Our plan for the future is to continue on that path. No huge changes, but reinvest to make it a more pleasant place to be.”
Asked what prompted them to buy the shop in 2014, Don Swenson smiled and explained that he liked what the Minches had started building. “It was on a whim,” he said. “And I was retired.”
“He was retired for 22 hours,” Molly said. “He retired on April 30 at 2:30 p.m. and we opened noonish May 1.
“But if that was what Don wanted to do, I would support him and do the bookkeeping,” she said. “We knew nothing about wine, nothing about running a retail business, but Don likes being around people and wants to participate in the community.”
A longtime board member of Two Waters Arts Alliance, Molly has scheduled dozens of monthly art shows at Blend over the last four years. “You know, there are an incredible number of extremely talented people living out here,” she said.
David Starkweather was the featured artist in April. The first-time exhibitor at Blend described the place as “an invaluable asset” for the community, especially for artists. Although he is a longtime KP resident, before his show, few people knew that he was also an artist.
A fairly frequent customer, songwriter and poet Clark Snyder said, “I probably would not be here if it were not for the art thing and the live music.”
Many community groups use Blend as a meeting place and it is often the site of events that help local organizations with fundraising. “The number of scheduled events and personal parties is growing,” Don said.
Several groups such as the Beaders and the Knitters were holding regular get-togethers well before the Swensens took over. The Beaders meet on the fourth Thursday of each month, and the Blend Hookers and Tinkers (the knitters) meet each Wednesday evening. A more recent addition is the Artists’ Blend, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month.
Both Swensens said the job of running the shop would be too big “if it wasn’t for Xoe being able to help out.” Xoe Frederick, Swensen’s daughter, and her husband, Jeff, are especially valuable when musicians are on the calendar. Xoe helps serve and Jeff comes to help with setup.
Molly said another key to their success are the distributors who run the Friday night tastings and provide information about the wines. “They are wonderful; they love coming here,” she said. “Every time we get a new one, their first response is, ‘Is it like this every Friday?’”
“Everyone here has one thing in common—wine—but you meet other people in the community,” said customer Shannon Ganisin during a recent Friday night tasting. “People depend on it. It gives them a reason to get up and get out of the house and meet people they would not get to meet otherwise. This is what the kids have at their civic center Skate Night—this is skate night for adults