Glenn Barlow, Oak Bay and Cook Street Village Wines

“People either love me or they hate me, but at least they don’t walk down the middle,” smiles Glenn Barlow.

At 48, Glenn is Victoria’s “B.C. Wine Guy,” owner of Oak Bay and Cook Street Village Wines, chair of the VQA Store Owners Association, producer of the Victoria Festival of Wines, and head of the Victoria Wine Society. More recently, Glenn has added marriage and fatherhood to his impressive list of achievements and speaks with great pride of his eight-month-old son Owen Patrick Barlow.

Victoria-born, or more accurately, Esquimalt-born, Glenn has been a leading supporter of the controversial Castana project, a commercial and residential complex in Cook Street Village. Cook Street Village Wines, which first opened in 1998 on solid ground, was “temporarily” relocated in July, 2005 to a ten-foot by forty-foot ATCO trailer in the parking lot of the now-closed Food Country grocery store. Due to issues surrounding the project, Cook Street Village Wines will continue to operate out of the trailer until the project completes in August 2008. “It’s been seventeen months in the trailer, but it’s certainly been worth the effort to put it there. The customers love it and the new project, which will include specialty foods as well as wines, is something we are really excited about.”

What came first, your interest in wine, or your interest in the wine business?

“The interest in wine and food came first. I grew up with it. I’ve always loved to cook. I love food and wine. I love the restaurant business and was a really good waiter, but I never wanted to own my own restaurant. In the mid-to-late 1980’s, I caught the wine bug. I worked for a wine importer and got a lot of training. The business came later and it was a big learning curve.”

{advertisement} What motivated you to go into business for yourself?

“I wanted to do something on my own. I am a Taurus: passionate and driven. I wanted to stick a stake in the ground that no one could take away from me.”

As a business owner, what are some of the most important things you consider?

“In business, there are a lot of things to consider. It’s so easy to stick your head in the sand and say you’re too busy to deal with something. That’s when you can get into trouble. It’s really important to take the time to re-evaluate what’s going on around you. Even if you are a small business, there are lots of independent contractors out there. Don’t feel you can’t afford to have a good accountant and a good corporate lawyer: they provide invaluable advice, even if they are expensive. And, get a good PR person and a good graphic artist who really dig what you are doing. It is as important to nurture those relationships as it is to nurture the relationships you have with your customers. Figure out what you need and build a network around yourself.”

What’s your view of Victoria as a place to do business?

“I don’t think Victoria is much different than other areas in the province or in Canada. I was born here, left at 20, and circled back six times. I love it here but it’s important to make enough money to get off the rock and take a look around. We have Vancouver, Seattle, and Whistler nearby, and it’s important to see what’s happening elsewhere. For the record, I think Alan Lowe is doing a good job. Some people really don’t like the growth, but Victoria is coming into its own as a city. People can live here and work here most of the time and, because of communications, zoom to the U.S. and Canada. Technology-based industries are setting up and working out of Victoria and it’s good. Relying on government and tourism has always had us in a glass-half-empty category, and it’s nice to see the glass fill up.

What’s your business philosophy?

“Enjoy what you do and be yourself. I love what I do and I love my customers. All the eclectic people I meet: it’s just so interesting. I get to eat and drink the food of kings, and yet I can still appreciate house wine and a plate of spaghetti. I dress casually because when you’re throwing wine boxes around, you want to be in shorts and a t-shirt. When you are an independent businessperson, it is all about relationships, and I love the people I work with, but if someone makes me angry, I don’t hesitate to tell them to go away.”

Words of wisdom?

“If you want to expand, plan for it and crunch the numbers. And, if something goes south, don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’m going to cut this off and count my losses.’ Never feel that you can’t jump back into the trenches. I had to actually sever the limb and say, ‘You know what, I’ve got to jump back in here and get back to basics.’ And, it worked. I am grateful for that.”