On the same day they reopened their wine shop, The Urban Grape, to the public, husband-and-wife duo TJ and Hadley Douglas joined Boston Public Radio to talk about their journey this year, as part of the BPR’s ongoing series about local businesses re-emerging from the pandemic.
The two have owned and operated The Urban Grape in Boston’s South End since 2010, but TJ said Wednesday’s reopening feels, in some ways, like a repeat of where they were over a decade ago.
“54 weeks has built up to today, and we are pumped,” he said, joking that at their morning huddle, "I put on some brand-new sneakers that I want to show all the customers coming in. We’re just absolutely pumped.”
In shifting to a delivery-only business model, they made it through the pandemic without seeing the drop in revenue that so many local shops and businesses experienced. The two also credited their success to efforts they made in highlighting wine makers of color.
“We really leaned into a lot of the more social aspects that were going on in the past year,” Hadley Douglas said. “I think it’s been really appreciated and expanded our customer base by a lot.”
But 2020 wasn’t without its trials for the Douglases. Namely, the aftermath of a break-in that took place amid Black Lives Matter protests in June. Because the shop had been closed to the public for months, there was no cash for the intruders to steal. But the shattered front window, and the media attention it brought the Douglases, served as a reminder of the deep and lingering racial inequities plaguing both the city and country.
“This is not about a broken window, this is about life,” TJ Douglas said, echoing the statements he gave to reporters in June. “This is about equity, this is about not murdering Black and brown people just because of the color of their skin.”
The event, he said, encouraged him to speak more directly with customers about the importance social justice. “We used our platform of 10,000 people at the time on social media to express our feelings as a family, as business owners, as an interracial couple [and] interracial family, and that really got a lot of national attention," he said. "And we’ve really continued to talk this way publicly, which we really always have.”
Watch: TJ Douglas on bringing BIPOC people into wine world
That effort culminated in the Urban Grape Wine Studies Award for Students of Color, created in collaboration with Boston University. Beyond funding awardees through BU’s Certificate Program in Wine Studies, accepted students will also engage in three internships — one with The Urban Grape, one with wholesale wine distributor MS Walker, and another with restaurateur Tiffani Faison’s Big Heart Hospitality — to gain insight into the retail, wholesale, and hospitality sectors of the wine industry. Applications for next year's iteration open tomorrow.
“With my 25-year background in history and the wine and hospitality industry, I’ve typically been the only [BIPOC person] in the room and the bar, either the worker or the customer,” TJ Douglas said. “I really felt that needed to change. We try to run Urban Grape as a very diverse company and a very forward-thinking company, but we weren’t getting the applicants that we wanted. And just like our customers, we had to meet these potential wine industry workers where they are, and that starts with education, and access to this education at a free cost.”