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June 27, 2022

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Niche Wine Bar and SuLei Cellars moving to new spaces

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Employees prepare food and drinks for customers at Niche Wine Bar. The new location will feature a bigger kitchen.
Employees prepare food and drinks for customers at Niche Wine Bar. The new location will feature a bigger kitchen. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Two downtown wine businesses, Niche Wine Bar and SuLei Cellars, are moving to new spaces soon.

Leah Jackson, of Niche Wine Bar, hopes to open in a ground-floor space in the Riverview Tower at 900 Washington St. by June 1. “I threw a wide net to find another space, but my heart is in downtown. That’s where I want to be,” she said.

Jackson’s search for a new space for her wine bar included many ups and downs. The Washington Street spot was the fifth place where she thought she would be moving her business. The new location encompasses 1,500 square feet that previously was used as an office.

“This is one of the last gems in downtown,” she said.

Jackson is changing the larger part of it into a roomy retail area with bookshelves to reflect the library feel of her current wine bar.

Jackson is also adding smaller rooms for talks with winemakers, wine classes, and small groups. Niche’s wine club members will have a special club room.

The space is almost twice the size of her current location and surrounded with windows.

“It will still be cozy. I’ve had a lot of people very concerned about that. It will evolve because we have so many windows. I tell people we’re coming out of the shadows,” said Jackson.

She’s also installing a slightly larger kitchen than she has in her current space, which is next to the Kiggins Theatre on Main Street. The new Niche won’t be a traditional restaurant, but Jackson will host special catered events and wine events with food.

SuLei Cellars

Down the street another woman-owned wine business, SuLei Cellars, will be moving into the Lucky Loan building at 614 Main St. The Walla Walla winery’s new tasting room will share the main floor of the former pawn shop with two other businesses. Owners Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe hope to open around the beginning of May.

Woodley grew up in Vancouver and graduated from Columbia River High School before moving to Southeastern Washington and pursuing a career in the wine industry in the early 2000s.

During her teenage years she saw the potential for downtown. Over the last few years she watched it transform from a neglected area to a thriving business district.

SuLei Cellars opened its current tasting room at 613 Main St. in 2019. “We had eight months of normalcy, then everything hit. It was a rough go,” said Woodley.

Despite the challenges of operating a new business during a pandemic, SuLei Cellars’ owners are determined to keep a satellite tasting room downtown.

“We’re so excited to be involved in the revitalization of downtown,” said Woodley. She’s particularly glad to move to a historic building like the Lucky Loan.

The new shared space on the main floor has 14-foot ceilings and an open floor plan with more of a classic look. Woodley and Jomwe hope to be approved for a Class 2 food service license so they can prepare cheese plates, paninis, and salads. Their current space has a Class 1 license, which only allows packaged food prepared offsite.

A large bar, a small open kitchen, and tables along the wall will fill the room. This new spot also includes outdoor seating on the front and side of the building along Seventh Street.

In addition to bringing their award-winning Walla Walla Valley wines to the tasting room, Woodley and Jomwe want to bring a low-key vibe to wine tasting.

“Our goal is to not make it pretentious or intimidating,” said Woodley. “Our role is directing and giving information, but you don’t have to like a certain varietal. What you enjoy is what you enjoy. Don’t spend time on something you think you should like.”

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