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Retired attorney, Lonnie Bailey, uncorks new winery in Greenwood

Lonnie Bailey converted an historic Greenwood building into a winery.

Lonnie Bailey converted an historic Greenwood building into a winery.

 

Lonnie Bailey spent 32 years as an attorney with Upshaw Williams Bigger & Beckham in Greenwood, Mississippi. Even with his heavy caseload, Mr. Bailey still found time to indulge in his true passion.

To friends and family, Mr. Bailey wasn’t their “lawyer friend,” he was their wine maker. “I’ve been making wine at home for years, but not enough to be illegal,” Mr. Bailey joked. “Both federal and state laws say you can make it at home as long as you don’t sell it or make more than 200 gallons a year in a two-person household. I wasn’t in any danger of that!”

But, as compliments continued to pour in about his varietals, Mr. Bailey began thinking about his retirement plans and discussed opening a winery with his wife, Debbie, a lab facilitator at the Mississippi Delta Community College in Greenwood. “We talked about building a winery as a bridge into retirement,” he said.

The couple set out to find a building for their business and stumbled across the perfect location in downtown Greenwood. The historic building that would become their winery first opened in 1907 as a fire station. It was last used as an American Red Cross center and had sat vacant for 14 years before the Baileys bought it.

Once purchased, the building required extensive renovations before the couple could open the location. They sought financing through the Bank of Commerce in Greenwood, which provided them with a loan funded by an Economic Development Program (EDP) advance from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas (FHLB Dallas). In conjunction with the loan, the Baileys also qualified for a $25,000 EDPPlus grant from FHLB Dallas, all of which was applied toward renovation costs and paying down the mortgage principal.

Mr. Bailey learned of the grant through his banking relationship with Jeff Crick, an executive vice president at Bank of Commerce.

EDPPlus grants are noncompetitive and available on a first-come, first-served basis to promote and enhance small business development and job creation. In 2015, FHLB Dallas has made $1 million in EDPPlus grant funds available through member institutions.

The Baileys opened their boutique winery, The Winery at Williams Landing, in November 2014, and they now own the building outright.

“I want to run this place without debt if I can,” Mr. Bailey said. “I’m 63 and my wife is 59, and at our ages, we don’t need a lot of debt. The grant helped us have that monkey off our backs so we can concentrate and make the winery a successful venture,”

Before the Baileys could open The Winery at Williams Landing, the building underwent extensive renovations.

The interior was gutted; plaster was replaced; the windows had to be pulled out, rebuilt and reinstalled; smaller rooms were converted into additional open space and a handicapped-accessible bathroom; and the wooden floors were torn out and replaced with a concrete floor and drainage. The Baileys installed a caterer’s kitchen upstairs that can be used for private events. The ceilings were sanded, primed, and repainted. All new heating and air conditioning units were installed, as well as new electrical wiring and plumbing.

Without the help of the loan and EDPPlus grant, financing the renovations would have been a hardship.

“The Bank of Commerce was very supportive of local businesses and people like me who have a vision and want to try to put that vision in place,” said Mr. Bailey.

Bank of Commerce has participated in FHLB Dallas’ EDP advance and grant program for several years. Since 2009, Bank of Commerce has assisted nine small business with the EDPPlus grant, including $100,000 in grant funds in 2014 to support four local businesses in the Greenwood community.

“The EDP advance and EDPPlus grant program provide our customers essential funding to complete their respective projects, but they also provide our bank with a competitive advantage in these communities. We will continue to utilize the program and offer this benefit to our customers in the future.”

For the Baileys, the wine business has been a great venture. They sold 240 cases of wine, consisting of nine varietals from their 2013 crop – selling out of six of their wines. From the 2014 crop, the winery produced 500 cases, more than doubling production.

“Without the assistance of the Bank of Commerce and FHLB Dallas, through the EDP advance and grant program, Debbie and I would never have been able to renovate the building that houses the winery,” Mr. Bailey said. “In the true spirit of hometown community banks, the Bank of Commerce and the FHLB Dallas helped us turn our dreams into reality.”

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