The pandemic took its toll on Charles and Marlys Aspinwall.
The Richland couple readily admits it. There were just too many opportunities to socially drink with friends and neighbors as everyone was forced to stay home from work during Covid-19.
But in December 2021, they both had had enough, tired of the way they were feeling.
“We gave (drinking) up totally,” Marlys said. “ I woke up and said ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ ”
Charles started looking for non-alcoholic drinks.
“I got online and noticed what a large market it was becoming. It started in Europe,” he said. “I started reading this information and said this looks like a business idea. Non-alcohol drinks are supposed to be a $7 billion industry by 2025.”
In a Feb. 28, 2022, article in Wine Enthusiast magazine, writer Sophia F. Gottfried said the demand for non-alcoholic beverages had gone up 60% from July of 2020 into 2021. The article furthered that, in fact, sales are in the billions.
The couple have dived into the business over the past year, and they just opened a brick and mortar store, called Kindred Spirits, at 430 George Washington Way, Suite 103, across the street from Black Rock Coffee, off Bradley Boulevard.
“So we quit drinking in December (2021), opened an online business in March, and had a stall at the Public Market in downtown Kennewick by June,” Marlys said.
What they found was a customer base that felt noticed, and the Aspinwalls have developed a loyal following.
“We have a lot of return customers,” said Marlys. “A lot of people have shared their alcohol journeys with us. We’ve shed a lot of tears.”
Charles started researching and found out that bottle shops up and down the East Coast were doing quite well.
“They were very successful,” he said. “But I was working on my own on what to do.”
They started ordering products online, and through trial and error, determined what the best were. Charles also started getting a feel for what was popular.
By March, the couple were selling products online.
“We used social media to get the word out about what we were selling,” he said.
Still, they felt they needed face-to-face contact with customers to really make it work.
So they rented a stall at Public Market @ Columbia River Warehouse in downtown Kennewick.
“At the market, we held an Alcohol Fair 101, giving out samples, and teaching customers about what’s available,” Charles said. “People were telling us the products were really good, and we started to get a following.”
There were naysayers too.
“We probably got a little frustrated with some of the comments from people. But we still had to develop a thick skin,” he said.
“We didn’t know how it would go,” Marlys said. “We had to have some blind faith. But the first 45 responses were 90 to 99% positive.”
It became successful enough that the couple started thinking about a storefront.
“The costs of a brick and mortar are astronomical,” said Charles. “I mean, we just can’t pull that trigger.”
But a friend pointed them to the new location on George Washington Way, and when they found that two other people were also looking at that building, they pulled the trigger.
They also were encouraged when they did a customer survey, finding out the majority of their customers were from the Richland area.
While Marlys retired from the medical field in 2021, Charles still works as a consultant for a local company. It’s just the two of them and no other employees.
“We prayed about it,” Marlys said. “If God doesn’t want us to do this, he’ll put up a road block.”
That hasn’t happened. Their last weekend at the Public Market was in late January.
The explosion of non-alcoholic products is rapid.
Back in the 1990s, there might have been an O’Doul’s non-alcoholic beer available and that was it.
But currently, the Aspinwalls sell 164 different products.
What’s popular are muscat wines, a Spirit 74 bourbon, wines made by Giesen, and various coolers.
Deschutes Brewery in Oregon has a porter with no alcohol in it.
Athletic Beer makes a number of different types of non-alcoholic beers that the Aspinwalls will sell.
They’ll also sell pre-mixed drinks and cocktails.
Locally, Charles points to Waterbrook Winery in Walla Walla, which makes a Clean Cabernet Sauvignon and a Clean Chardonnay.
“Waterbrook Winery is the only one in the area that makes a non-alcoholic wine,” Charles said.
The amount of non-alcoholic beverages is getting bigger all the time.
While the company logo has Kindred Spirits on it, there is a smaller line below that that says, “Alcohol Free Bottle Shop and Sober Bar.”
That’s why the couple have tables and chairs, so that people can stay and drink in the store.
“We’re bringing in a couple of refrigerators,” Charles said.
So who’s expected to come into the store?
“Pregnant women, people who can’t drink alcohol for health reasons, people who want to moderate but want to participate,” Charles said.
Marlys believes this is the first step with a storefront.
“(Pasco’s) Osprey Pointe, they actually called us up,” she said. “They say by the end of this summer they should be up and running. We eventually want to be out there too.”
What the Aspinwalls did was find a new business idea, ran with it, and found there are many others out there who think like them.
“It’s become sort of a ministry,” Marlys said. “We talk to people about the effects of alcohol. For the most part, the majority of our friends are supportive.”
Charles interjected: “Although I don’t think we get invited to parties as much.”
Marlys countered, “Our kids are very excited for us.”
The couple held a successful open house at the Richland store on Feb. 4, convincing them that they were right about their growth.
“We were like a pot of soil at the public market,” Charles said. “We grew and grew and grew. Now we’re repotting ourselves here.”
Kindred Spirits Alcohol Free Bottle Shop and Sober Bar: 430 George Washington Way, Suite 103, Richland. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Contact: Sales.email@example.com or call 206-499-5571.
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