St. Petersburg Bookstore and Wine Bar Opens Amidst Pandemic
Book + Bottle of Pinellas County
Just days prior to the city shutdown due to COVID-19 in March 2020, Dunham opened her bookstore and wine bar to the public. Full of hope and optimism, Dunham clung to the mission of gathering and turning neighbors into friends.
“I decided to start Book + Bottle because I love books and I love wine and I felt like there was really a market for that kind of business here in St. Pete,” she said. “The market here is just perfectly right for this sort of thing so It was just this magic combination of all the right things at the right time.” While Dunham legally started her business in January 2019, she knew she would need assistance along the road to opening the brick-and-mortar storefront.
“I am a first-time business owner and I like to learn so I knew if I was going to be starting a business that I needed to do it in the best way possible,” she said of her start. “I needed all of the help that I could get and I was just so impressed that the SBDC had a branch here in Pinellas County that I could take advantage of. They were willing to give me one-on-one help so I could be sure that I was starting my business on a really solid grounding.”
Since starting her business, Dunham has utilized the Florida SBDC at Pinellas County Economic Development (PCED) in a variety of areas, specifically for creating a business plan and managing business finances.
“Kurt [Forster] helped me in so many ways. He got me in touch with a lot of other resources. He explained to me everything that the SBDC offers and what was the most valuable and he taught me how to understand and read business plans,” Dunham recalls.
“When I came in, I had written almost 80 pages on how my business was going to run, how it was going to look, how many people I was going to have, I thought I had come up with everything. And he looked at me and said, ‘where are the numbers?’ It was then that I was like ‘oh gosh, I don’t know.’
Forster, a Florida SBDC at PCED business consultant, sat down with Dunham and analyzed the numbers and showed Dunham how to create a balance sheet and a profit and loss statement. He also
helped her project expenses for the next five years.
“He helped me get to a point where I knew I would be able to break even in the business in the relatively near future,” she said. “He got me all set up so I would be able to run my business from a financial point of view. I feel really fortunate that I was able to work with the SBDC at Pinellas County and with Kurt because I don’t think I would have made it through this past year without feeling like I had the support to ask questions and being trained with all these tolls that Kurt had given me.”
In the spring of 2020, after months of hard work, Dunham was preparing to open the doors to her brick-and-mortar location when COVID-19 caused a shutdown in the city of St. Petersburg.
“I actually opened two days before the city shut down due to COVID,” she said. Due to the prior discussions she’d had with the Florida SBDC at Pinellas County and Forster, Dunham was optimistic about the success of her business through the pandemic. “The fact that I had these plans and numbers to look at gave me the motivation to try and get to those numbers and I had a very clear understanding of what I needed to do in order to make those numbers work.”
The business model pivoted to book and wine delivery for approximately two months while the physical store was closed, which helped Book + Bottle survive. “I was able to take what Kurt had taught me and use it when figuring out what my very limited income was going to mean for my expenses and how I was going to be able to cut and make ends meet. He helped me get out of that really tough spot and set me up for success, so we were able to succeed when things opened up again,” she said.
Despite being a new business, Book + Bottle was able to receive a small business grant through The Greenhouse in St. Petersburg. She’s also seeing sustained growth, having created seven jobs and exceeding 2020 sales expectations. Dunham continues to rely on Forster when she has questions and encourages others to do the same.
“For anyone that wants to start a business, I think it would be absolutely ridiculous to not use every resource that is available to you with the Florida SBDC at Pinellas County because they are free and it’s so helpful,” she said. “Nobody knows everything. No matter how seasoned or experienced that you are, there are always resources that you can take advantage of.”
Book + Bottle is in downtown St. Petersburg at 17 6th Street North.