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Can this natural wine store open in Harlem during the COVID-19 crisis?

A sketch of True Wines by architect Ryoji Karube

Six months ago the future seemed bright for True Wines, Harlem's first store dedicated to natural and organic wines.

Brooklyn transplant Zulema Mejias–she and her husband, jazz musician Oscar Peñas, moved from Clinton Hill a year ago–had just found a basement retail space on Broadway in Hamilton Heights.

She had also recently launched a crowdfunding page, complete with a detailed business plan and sketch of the simply decorated wine shop. With help from investors, she hoped to open in June of 2020.

Then came the coronavirus.

Some investors took out their money, and the original basement location started looking less certain. "It's a really bad moment to open a boutique store," conceded Mejias, who is also her husband's agent and business manager.

Still, despite the setbacks, Mejias is forging ahead. She's determined to debut True Wines sometime this fall or winter; her focus remains on Hamilton Heights, either on Broadway or Amsterdam Avenue between 143rd and 148th Streets.

The wines–organic, sustainable and biodynamic–will come from small producers in Spain (Peña's homeland) and France as well as local regions like the Hudson Valley. The shelves will also feature ciders and dessert wines.

Cost will certainly be a major consideration. "I like quality, but I'm focused on price, too," said Mejias, adding that most bottles will range between $15 and $25.

Using her experience in the music industry, she also plans to host small jazz concerts in the space.

The main issue remains, of course, funding. So far Mejias has about 40% of what she needs to open the store. Once the money is in place, she'll be ready to sign a lease for the space, apply for a liquor store license, and open for business.

In these very challenging times, she remains optimistic. Said Mejias, "I'm not losing my hope."

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