Wine shop flows into fallen bakery plan

Plans to cook up a new bakery in downtown Newton never rose, but now a different type of retail business is fermenting in its place.

Earlier this year, the city of Newton received an $80,830 Main Street Solutions grant from the state's department of commerce. The purpose of the grant was to provide matching funds for a Charlotte-area businessman who committed to invest $160,000 in renovations for a building on the city's Court Square.

At the time the city received the grant, Dennis Baucom planned to convert the former home of Phyllis' Crafts into a bakery and create four jobs.

"We had a bakery planned, and we were working with a bakery to locate here. At the last minute, they backed out," said Baucom, who also operates Second Nature Technologies and owns 19 N. Main Ave. "They pulled out of the project all together."

That left Baucom and his partner, Twyla Deese, with a decision.

"We could either walk away from the grant and the possibility of renovating the building," Baucom explained, "or ask the state to allow us to change the scope of the project."

Finding a new retail business tenant for the space proved tough, Baucom said.

"We could not find anybody else ready to go in there and start renting, so we thought our best chance was to do it ourselves," he said. "One of the things that we talked about in the past was the potential of opening a wine shop. We had kind of put it on a 'we will get there one day' project list.

"If there is a chance to keep the grant, it will be in us doing a wine shop," he continued, adding he expects to create six jobs under the new plan.

Baucom said he and his business partner enjoy the wine industry as enthusiasts, but they don't expect to fill any of those new six positions. He also said he has discussed the potential for a wine shop's success in downtown Newton with a consultant experienced with that type of business.

"His opinion is that it can" succeed, Baucom said. "The idea we have in mind, we think, is going to be a good fit for downtown."

Baucom said his partner has personal ties to Newton, and that the city makes a good place for a new small business.

"I think Newton is a great representative of a small community of North Carolina," he said, "and if you do businesss, from a personal perspective, I would rather do business in a place like that than in a place where you might get lost in the noise."

Before the revised plan can proceed, however, the state's department of commerce must sign off on the change. The city of Newton, which administers the grant for the project but does not provide any matching funds, will act on Baucom's behalf and submit amended plans to the state, which must provide approval before grant proceeds are distributed.

"He has the right to submit, and [N.C. Department of Commerce] has the right to accept or deny it," said Newton Commercial Development Coordinator Rob Powell. "He doesn't get any of the money until he complies with the terms of the grant, which is to finish the project, create jobs and show his side of the expenses."

Powell said Baucom must create at least four jobs, and provide a two-for-one match for grant proceeds. The jobs must also age for six months, he said.

"Once he has done that, he can apply for the money," Powell told Newton City Council this week.

Baucom must now submit a business plan to the city by Dec. 9, and he said work on the plan is under way, and should be complete by Thanksgiving.

"We really thought we were going to have a bakery open by October," he said, "but we see how that went. I am hoping we can get all of this moving and by mid- to late-spring have the building completed and have the wine bar in."

"My goal right now is to get the building occupied and doing some business in Newton rather than have an empty storefront looking ugly," he continued.