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Originally published Friday, November 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Retail Report

Special wine bottles become works of art

Like a viticultural magician, Scott Schoenen can double the value of a bottle of wine without aging it for years. The owner of Fresh Northwest...

Seattle Times business reporters

Like a viticultural magician, Scott Schoenen can double the value of a bottle of wine without aging it for years.

The owner of Fresh Northwest Design in Gig Harbor never even touches a grape. He works his magic with sandblasting machines and paintbrushes that turn wine bottles into canvases for artwork, corporate logos and holiday greetings.

He charges $25 to $2,000 a bottle, depending on the complexity of the design and how many bottles are ordered. Some of his winery clients resell them for two to three times what they're worth with a paper label.

The minimum order is $500, although the nine-employee company creates an occasional single bottle for charity or a business client who wants to propose to his girlfriend with a bottle etched with the words along the lines of "Jessie, will you marry me?"

Schoenen's 2,300-square-foot factory studio is stacked with duplicates of bottles, including one with the marriage proposal, a group of Garfield the Cat bottles for Hogue Cellars, and a bottle with Toy Story characters that was a 50th birthday gift this year to the Academy Award-winning animator and film executive John Lasseter.

It's a $500,000-a-year business, with about half of sales coming from wineries. Other clients include charities and companies such as Safeway and Merrill Lynch that give etched wine bottles as gifts to clients and rewards for employees.

"For us, they're special bottles that we use for wine auctions or special events," said Eileen Votteler, communications manager at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville.

Ste. Michelle's wineries order 100 to 200 bottles a year and were among Fresh Northwest Design's first clients 20 years ago, when it was founded by Charles and Annie Morningstar, Votteler said.

The Morningstars sold the business last year to Schoenen, whose career had been mostly in technology sales and buying.

Schoenen said he was thrilled to find a company that combines artistry with commerce.

"People find the most inventive ways to use these bottles, and it makes them happy," he said. "How many businesses do you work in where your clients are always, always happy?"

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

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Lululemon Athletica , an upscale activewear store based in Vancouver, B.C., opens its second Washington state store Dec. 7 at University Village in Seattle. Lululemon's other store is at Bellevue Square. — AM

Peet's Coffee & Tea , which opened its fourth Seattle-area store on Queen Anne this month, is already working on two more — one to open on Capitol Hill in January and another later in 2008 between Queen Anne and Magnolia. The Capitol Hill store at Broadway and Denny is coming too close to Espresso Vivace for owner David Schomer's taste.

"I am surprised that Peet's would open 50 feet from my entry to the Roasteria. Oversaturation of the market is more of a Starbucks trick, and does not serve the customer or the retail district," Schomer said. He won't have to tolerate it for long, because Vivace is relocating next spring to the new Brix building farther north to make way for a Sound Transit station.

"It's never been our philosophy to put anyone out of business. We're very thoughtful about where we go and the types of sites we choose," said Erica Hess, manager of social responsibility for Peet's, whose coffee inspired the original Starbucks founders but which never tried to grow at the pace of the Seattle-based chain. — MA

Costco stores have begun selling Live Nation gift certificates for next year's amphitheater concert season. The Amphitheatre Concert Pack card costs $39.99 and includes two general-admission lawn tickets, as well as six MP3 downloads from the Live Nation digital music page. — AM

PCC Natural Markets has eliminated all products with high-fructose corn syrup, which nutritionists have linked to obesity and other health problems. Seattle-based PCC, which has eight stores, gave vendors a chance to reformulate their products. Many responded with snacks and other products sweetened with evaporated cane juice, molasses, honey, maple syrup and stevia. — MA

The Museum of Flight is selling holiday gifts at downtown Seattle's City Centre Mall near Fifth Avenue and Union Street. There until Jan. 4, the museum's store carries aviation- and space-related items including books, toys, calendars and artwork. — AM

REI opens a 525,000-square-foot distribution center today in Bedford, Pa., to serve 42 of its 96 stores from Boston to Atlanta, as well as the Midwest and Texas. Kent-based REI also has a 606,000-square-foot distribution center in Sumner, Pierce County. — AM

Aaron Reed , the guy who first tasted turkey-and-gravy soda at Jones Soda, left in May for a supply-chain planning job at Starbucks. With the move came his decision to break a years-long tradition of drinking Jones' entire holiday pack the day before Thanksgiving. "In all honesty, this holiday is much more palatable," Reed said. "I prefer good old-fashioned eggnog latte." — MA

Dolce Europa Fine Foods , a specialty food importer, opened its Georgetown warehouse store to the public this week, offering cannoli, sfogliatelle (another Italian pastry), tiramisu, panna cotta and other sweets. It also stocks pasta, frozen pizza and mineral water. The store at 503 S. Michigan St. is open Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment. — MA

Washington grape growers harvested 127,150 tons of grapes this fall, up from 120,000 tons in 2006, according to Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. — MA

Former Nordstrom pianist Joel Baker was among those disappointed to hear this week that some department stores are doing away with live piano performances.

Baker, a pianist at Nordstrom's Tukwila store for 15 years, recalls that in trying to keep up with changing musical tastes in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he went as far as to play piano versions of Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" and Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca."

"I even played Eminem one time, but that didn't go over too well, so I took it off my play list," Baker said.

By next year, Nordstrom's Alderwood mall store will let go of its pianist, although the piano will stay for special occasions.

The Bellevue Square Nordstrom did away with its piano three months ago, choosing commercially recorded music instead. — AM

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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