Mari's Wine Bar closes unexpectedly

DOWNEY - Mari's Wine Bar, Downey's first wine bar and a hub for the emerging arts scene, closed its doors for the last time on Friday, Jan. 18. On Jan. 15, the official announcement of the bar's impending closure was posted on Mari's Facebook page by bar co-owner Anthony Flores. Well wishes quickly flooded in from former patrons and fans of the bar's monthly poetry readings and the Downey Art Coalition's (DAC) Art on the Vine gallery series, a popular event hosted at the wine bar.

The bar seemed to have a promising future when it opened in November 2010 to a great deal of fanfare, especially after partnering up with a number of the city's arts organizations. According to Flores; however, signs of trouble came around the bar's one-year anniversary.

"I knew we were in trouble when things didn't pick up this past summer like we thought they would," Flores said. "Things got very slow and they never picked up again. We're not talking about a 20 percent drop in business; we're talking about half of our business just not being there."

Flores says there were a number of contributing factors, the most notable of which was the near-impossible parking situation that developed after the city prohibited street parking along the busy Firestone Boulevard corridor directly in front of Mari's. At the same time, construction was taking place in the back parking lot and at the corner of Firestone Blvd. and Downey Ave. in preparation for the new Downey Gateway food court development. Mari's also wasn't easily visible from the street, making it mostly a spot only known by locals.

The bar's Yelp page, which is rated as having three out of five stars, also hints that service might have been an issue, with many complaining of the absence of a wine list, a lack of diversity in the wine selection, and long wait times.

Mari's was the first business for both Flores and co-owner Maribel Del Real, both of whom came from the auto industry. According to Flores, both intend to return to the auto industry, with Flores hoping to join a dealership.

"People have come in and said goodbye and thanked us for our service. They seem sad, but I don't think it's really hit me yet. I haven't dealt with the reality of the closing yet," Flores said.

Flores spent the last week packing up merchandise, most of which was being sold for a 50 percent discount, and saying goodbye to customers like Ernest MacMillan. MacMillan was one of the wine bar's most loyal patrons. The attorney's Downey law practice was located near the bar and MacMillan would drop in every night for a glass of wine before heading home for the night.

"I liked the bar immediately. At first it was the novelty of it because it was the only wine bar in Downey, but eventually I came to enjoy their wines and speaking with the owners about the wine taught me a lot," MacMillan said. "I heard they were going to close from Anthony and to be honest, I wasn't surprised. As a business owner myself, I would have done the same thing. Each night fewer and fewer people were coming in. This is also a rough economy for small businesses and the parking situation made things more difficult. It's just so unfortunate. I'm sad to see them go."

********** Published: January 24, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 41