Last updated on May 12th, 2022 at 11:48 am
A new bottle shop selling an array of wine as well as beer, spirits and cigars is coming soon to Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood.
Thelma Carol Wine Merchants will open in June on the ground floor of 605 W. Virginia St. Originally a Schlitz tied house, the historic 115-year-old building has housed several bar-restaurant concepts over the years, including Virginia’s in the 1980s, Il Mito in the 2000s before the Italian eatery moved to Wauwatosa, and most recently, an Asian fusion restaurant called Juto. The space has sat vacant for the past few years.
Its newest occupant is somewhat of a hybrid between a retail shop and a bar, said co-owner Rebecca Sue Button. Customers will be able to sample different blends of wine and enjoy a glass while they peruse. The business will also host private events and wine tastings.
Button owns the business with her husband Jerel Hall. They both have backgrounds in hospitality. Button worked at Odd Duck, Bavette La Boucherie and At Random prior to her current role as marketing, events and social media director at Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21. Hall is a certified sommelier and has worked in the food and beverage industry for about 15 years. He also holds a master’s degree in library sciences, which has provided inspiration for the store’s Victorian-era library aesthetic.
“But instead of being full of books, it will be full of wine and beer,” said Button.
The product mix at Thelma Carol will be wine-centric, including domestic and imported brands with a focus on small-production, organic, biodynamic and natural blends as well as female and BIPOC winemakers. Its smaller selection of spirits will have rum, gin and single-malt liquor that customers may have never tasted.
“I want this to be a place where the at-home cocktail enthusiast can come to find ingredients that they may not be able to find anywhere else,” said Hall.
In keeping with ever-evolving consumer expectations, educating shoppers about the beverage and where it comes from will be another key part of the experience.
“Just seeing something on the shelf is just half the equation or less than half,” he said. “A lot of what makes drinking a specific beverage an experience or a special event for people is knowing that there’s a narrative behind it.”
The store’s moniker has a backstory of its own: it’s an homage to Hall’s grandmother, Thelma June, and Button’s grandmother, Carol. Both women were librarians.
The historic West Virginia Street property is being redeveloped by another husband and wife duo: Braden and Brianna Just. They bought the two attached buildings last year for $500,000, according to state records, and are converting it into the Tannery Boutique Apartments. The project includes five apartment units and 2,000 square feet of commercial space, which will soon house Thelma Carol Wine Merchants. Hall said he’s doing the build out the space himself.
The couple was drawn to the location because of its close proximity to other dining spots like the Iron Horse Hotel and Zocalo Food Truck Park. The ongoing transformation of the Walker’s Point area was also attractive.
“Seeing Milwaukee blossom in these past five to six years, we’re very excited to be part of this next evolutional step here,” said Hall.