Ciao, Bello Vino

Plymouth Mall grocery set to close on Jan. 15
Bello Vino at the Plymouth Mall, near Plymouth and Green.

Bello Vino at the Plymouth Mall, near Plymouth and Nixon.

On Saturday, TeacherPatti posted a Tweet about the upcoming closing of Bello Vino Marketplace, and on Monday The Chronicle took the #2 AATA bus to the Plymouth Mall store to check things out. If you didn’t already know the grocery was set to close on Jan. 15, the empty or thinly-stocked shelves would be your first clue. Or you might notice the grim-faced employees – one of them told The Chronicle that they were informed of the decision on Friday, the day after Christmas. “It was kind of a slap in the face,” she said.

There’s a sign on the entrance, and letters to customers are getting passed out at the checkout stands. (The same message was posted on their website on Monday – the full text is at the end of this article). The owners attribute the store’s closing to current economic conditions. They are looking for a different space to continue selling wine and beer, but they haven’t yet found a new location.

A sign on the entrance to Bello Vino announced its closing date.

A sign on the entrance to Bello Vino announced its closing date and deep discounts.

Meanwhile, Bello Vino’s remaining stock is deeply discounted – 50% for produce and cheese, 25% off meat and seafood, 40% off coffee and candy. On Monday morning, there was still a decent selection of beer, wine, meat and dairy, but the produce section was nearly depleted. It didn’t appear that anything was being restocked throughout the store.

Lou Ferris opened Bello Vino in the space formerly occupied by Merchant of Vino, which was bought by Whole Foods in 1997 and moved out of the Plymouth Mall in late 2002. He owns a farm in Superior Township, which at one point supplied up to 30 percent of Bello Vino’s produce, according to a 2007 Ann Arbor News article.

Two years ago, Ferris spoke at a planning commission public hearing and told the group that he’d invested heavily in the store but that it basically just broke even, according to planning commission minutes. That was true until this past year, when the downturn in the economy really took its toll, said Jennifer Ferris, vice president of the holding company Federated Capital Corp., through which her father owns Bello Vino and several other businesses.

(As an aside, Federated Capital Corp. also owns Great Lakes Central Railroad. That railroad operates trains on the state-owned tracks that run from Ann Arbor through Howell. Ferris has been working with the city of Ann Arbor to push for a north/south commuter rail service. In mid-2006 he hosted a group of community leaders on a train ride from Ann Arbor to Eight Mile Road in Northfield Township, to demonstrate the feasibility of the route. That project is still moving forward, Jennifer Ferris said. “We have a very big interest in commuter rail.”)

The decision to close Bello Vino was “very, very hard,” Jennifer Ferris said. The cost of food is rising, customers have been cutting back on their food budgets, and the market was over-saturated with grocery stores, she said, though she didn’t single out any one specific competitor. In Ann Arbor, Whole Foods opened a second store this fall at the corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and Eisenhower, and in February Plum Market opened its first store locally at the corner of Maple and Dexter-Ann Arbor. Both specialty groceries are direct competitors with Bello Vino.

Plymouth Mall is owned by Vern Hutton. Jeff Hutton, the mall’s property manager, says they’re pursuing another grocery store, but are in the very preliminary stages. Before Bello Vino’s decision to leave, the mall had a vacancy rate of less than 10%, he said. The biggest previous vacancies were caused by the departure this summer of the Ann Arbor District Library, which left after opening the nearby Traverwood branch, and Norton’s Flowers & Gifts. Those spots are still empty.

It’s a tough time to find a new tenant, Hutton said. In general, the economy has been hard on existing tenants, who’ve struggled for two years since the announced departure of Pfizer – the pharmaceutical’s large research campus is located across the street from Plymouth Mall. The University of Michigan recently announced plans to purchase the Pfizer site, but that deal isn’t expected to close until the summer of 2009.

Finally, as promised, here’s the text of a letter that Bello Vino is distributing to customers:

Dear friends,

With deep sadness, we regret to inform you that we will be shutting our doors on January 15. Five years ago this January, we opened with a dream and a hope of providing the freshest gourmet food to our community. It has been a remarkable journey as we have come to know the people and local businesses of Ann Arbor. Through our relationships with our customers and farmers, we have stayed passionate about local, sustainable, unique and delicious foods.

We are currently in the process of seeking a space to continue our Wine and Beer Departments. You will surely be aware if we are successful in that endeavor.

For the past year we have tried various strategies to make it through the current economic downturn. The decision to close our store was not an easy one. We understand the impact it will have on our distributors, local growers, employees and customers.

Thank you for your patronage, support and friendly faces that we have come to recognize and know throughout the last five years. It is our hope to return to the food community of Ann Arbor in the future.

Until then, thank you for your support and patronage.


The Staff and Family of Bello Vino Marketplace


  1. December 29, 2008 at 6:10 pm | permalink

    Holy cow–thanks for using me in the story! That is SO cool :)
    Jeff (my husband) went on Saturday and said it was like an end of the world, nuclear bombs are falling movie where everyone crams their carts with whatever they can find. I have since heard that most of the “good beer” is gone (up to each to define that, of course!!)
    And you probably heard, but Kitchen Port is closing, too :( What’s next?? :(

  2. By Mary Morgan
    December 29, 2008 at 6:21 pm | permalink

    No, I hadn’t heard about Kitchen Port – thanks for passing that along. I just went to their website ( and saw this posting:

    “To all our friends and customers—

    Kitchen Port is for sale.

    These economic times have been hard on all of us, especially small business. Kitchen Port’s sales were down 40% during the holidays when we traditionally do 60% of our year’s business. We are unable to secure the amount of financing required to keep us open.

    Thank you to all of our loyal customers for the last 40 years.”

    The notice says they’re having a clearance sale through Jan. 2.

    I fear we’ll hear more sad stories like this in the coming year. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

  3. December 29, 2008 at 8:46 pm | permalink

    This is indeed bad news. Folks, it is imperative that you support your local businesses with the dollars that you do have to spend. Unless we all do our part to support our local economy more and more small businesses will also close. You can make a difference. Check out for listings of local businesses and further information about supporting your friends, neighbors and family. Go local! Save your community!

  4. By Matt
    December 29, 2008 at 10:20 pm | permalink

    Apparently the Bello’s shelves have been very lean for a couple months now.

  5. By jack sprague
    December 30, 2008 at 10:08 am | permalink

    Wow – Kitchen Port, too ! Horrible news ! I’m going to have to make a close-out run. Sad… I liked them so much better than the mass-market kitchen offerings.

  6. By Stew Nelson
    December 30, 2008 at 10:15 am | permalink

    I think the closing is really poor timing and short sighted. With the announcement that the University is buying the Pfizer property across the street, there will be a demand for ready cooked-healthy meals like they sell at Whole Foods, Busch’s and Hiller’s.

    Imagine 1000 of the 2000 time constrained researchers at Michigan’s newly opened “Proteus Laboratory”??? (I took the liberty to rename the property for Michigan) Its 5:30 and you have just finished analyzing an “illusive protein” all day. You have nothing in the refrigerator! Why not grab a roasted chicken and some vegetable and a vintage bottle of “cheap wine” in a “drive by” at Bella Vino on your way home? Some entrepreneur will certainly figure that business model out. Who know they may even buy “Say Cheese” and move it in also?

    We live in a great City with infinite possibilities if you look for them.


  7. By imjustsayin
    December 30, 2008 at 10:05 pm | permalink

    RE: Kitchen Port

    When they were in Kerrytown I used to go in two or three times a month. Usually leaving with something I didn’t need. When they moved out of town they might as well have moved to the moon. Same with Wilkinson. I shopped for luggage there and had repairs done there. Stopped in about once a quarter. They moved and I only went back once…too far out of town. Is it a coincidence they shared a wall in their new digs?

    It’s too bad but I suppose I will pack a lunch, compass, and GPS and head out there to bargain shop.

  8. December 31, 2008 at 10:26 am | permalink

    It’s nice to see this substantive article near the top on a day (Dec. 31) when the Ann Arbor news saw fit to give an above the fold spread on the first business page to a local psychic and her lLC.

  9. By Judy Steeh
    December 31, 2008 at 8:31 pm | permalink

    It’s sad to see so many “old friends” leaving town. But Imjustsayin is right on the money – what on earth possessed Wilkersons and Kitchenport to leave downtown? Could they really not afford the high rents any more? If so, are those rents going to drive more places out of town and ultimately out of business?

  10. By Emily Eisbruch
    January 6, 2009 at 6:58 am | permalink

    We will miss Bello Vino.