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Three ways you can help local small businesses thrive

(BPT) – There are millions of small businesses in the United States owned by passionate people working hard to make their dreams a reality. Rather than buying from a big retailer the next time you need something, consider supporting the locally owned businesses around you.

When you support a small business, you’re not only helping build your community, but also directly impacting someone’s life. Every customer counts when it comes to small business, which means your dollars can help that small business owner thrive.

For example, as the nation’s largest insurer, State Farm has more than 19,000 agents who are small business owners themselves, who are committed to restoring lives, rebuilding neighborhoods and investing in the communities where they live and work. This desire to help started 100 years ago when the company was founded by a farmer who was concerned that big city insurance companies would not serve the specific needs of his business and community.

This holiday season is the perfect time to support your local businesses. Here are three simple ways to support small businesses and have a positive impact this holiday season and beyond:

Get to know your community through its businesses

While holidays are important times to shop local, your support matters all year long. For many people, this means shifting their mindset to thinking about local options first and getting to know the types of products and services your local businesses are providing.

Whether you are purchasing items for yourself or someone else, start to understand how these local businesses can fill your needs. Don’t forget, many small businesses offer gift cards, which are wonderful ways to show ongoing support.

Support small business service providers

Small businesses aren’t just for tangible goods. Many provide important services, such as your local mechanic, dentist or insurance agent. So, no matter your needs, try and find businesses that are active in the community.

You can spot these businesses by seeing how they engage with their neighbors. Look for the providers that are going above and beyond to support the neighborhood and other small businesses. By supporting those that have a strong investment in your community, you are helping them create a greater impact.

“From doughnut shops to beverage distributors, from hair salons to warehouses, State Farm agents are perfectly suited to help small business owners protect their dreams, their livelihoods and their families,” said Chief Agency, Sales & Marketing Officer and former State Farm Agent Rand Harbert. “We offer products and services business owners need, and State Farm agents are small business owners themselves.”

Share your experience

Many small businesses rely on satisfied customers to tell others so they can grow their client base. People trust word of mouth, so your effort makes a difference.

In fact, more than eight out of 10 people around the world said they completely or somewhat trust the recommendations of friends and family, according to Nielsen. Plus, two-thirds said they trust online opinions from consumers. So, tell a friend in person, share a post on social media, or leave a positive review online.

If you’re a small business owner, consider using your platform to build up other entrepreneurs in your neighborhood. Heading into the holiday season, State Farm’s agents are using their networks and social media channels to promote the small businesses in the communities they serve.

The next time you have a need arise, think of how a small business can help. Every effort counts to build your community, show your support, and ensure you continue to have thriving small businesses near you.

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Avoid delivery and shipping scams this holiday season

From The Better Business Bureau

You scored awesome deals this Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and now you anxiously wait for your packages to arrive. But with millions of packages delivered each year, con artists and thieves have developed many ways to steal from shoppers. Fortunately, there are also many ways to protect yourself from their shady tactics.

“Delivery scams and theft are particularly widespread during the holidays,” says Lisa Frohnapfel, President of the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan. “Consumers shouldn’t just hope everything arrives as planned. Instead, it’s important to make sure you protect yourself and your purchases.”

How to avoid popular delivery scams: 

Look out for phishing texts or emails that pose as official notices from delivery companies. These either contain a “tracking link” or a message that the shipper is having difficulty delivering a package to you, or a link to update delivery preferences. Clicking the link either takes you to a form that asks for personally identifying information, or to a site that downloads malware onto your computer. Go to the delivery carrier’s website directly or log in and use the retailer’s tracking tools. 

Don’t leave packages sitting on your doorstep. If you won’t be home, have your package delivered to your workplace, or to a trusted friend or neighbor who will be home to accept delivery. Some delivery companies allow you to schedule your delivery for a time when someone will be home. Another option some companies offer is lockers where your packages can securely wait for you to pick them up using a one-time code to open the locker.  

Take advantage of online tracking services offered by retailers; if the company says it was delivered but it’s not at the delivered address, report it.

Consider monitoring the front door. If you have a home security camera system, make sure it captures activity at your front door and mailbox. If you catch any mail thieves in the act, save the video and alert your local Postal Inspectors.

Customize the delivery. If you know the package is going to be larger than the mailbox, authorize the carrier to leave it in a specified out-of-sight location. You can also request pick-up at their facility.

Watch for suspicious activity. Some thieves follow delivery trucks waiting for the opportune time to steal packages. If you notice something out of place in your neighborhood, report it to the police with specific details.

Visit BBB.org/AvoidScams to learn more and if you’ve been the victim of a delivery scam.

Report scams at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to similar scams.

Posted in Business, Home for the HolidaysComments Off on Avoid delivery and shipping scams this holiday season

Five ways to support small businesses by shopping locally this holiday season

(BPT) – While big businesses receive attention during the holidays for offers of free shipping, buy one get one free and other promotions, it’s small businesses who are truly the heartbeat of local communities and help bring magical experiences to this time of year. From holiday lights in the center of town, to decorations and pictures with winter characters, receiving a warm smile and possibly a tasty delight from a local pastry chef while shopping at a small business brings holiday joy to all.

The 32 million small businesses in the U.S. employ nearly 61 million workers, or about 47% of the labor force, according to the U.S Small Business Association. But small businesses are also the most vulnerable, as sudden changes in fortune – like a recession, natural disasters or an unprecedented pandemic – can shutter many of them for good.

For boutique retailers and other small businesses who vie for consumer mindset, the holiday season can make or break them. While mass market stores and big brand online merchants continue to grab market share, smaller brick-and-mortar or local e-commerce shops often offer the most customized and unique holiday gifts. And it’s up to their neighbors, in countless communities from coast to coast, to show appreciation by opening their wallets and providing local small businesses a much-needed fiscal boost before the end of the year.

With many restaurants, shops and other entrepreneurial entities still recovering from the effects of a difficult 2020 holiday season hit hard by the pandemic, small businesses need assistance this year more than ever and they may find it from unexpected places – in some cases, from big businesses.

For example, Wells Fargo has supported its small business customers and extended philanthropic support to the broader community throughout the pandemic. Efforts have included working together with more than 3 million small businesses across the country to help them get back to thriving, and the creation of its Open for Business Fund, a roughly $420 million recovery effort offering capital, technical assistance and long-term programs for small businesses. In preparation for the holidays, Wells Fargo’s Hope, USA program will build on the bank’s foundation of support by helping to beautify business districts in more than a dozen cities nationwide and encouraging everyone to join in giving hope a hand this holiday season by supporting small businesses and shopping locally.

Here are five ways you too can help to support small businesses this holiday season.

1) Do your gift shopping locally. While it can sometimes be more efficient to holiday shop at one-stop mass online retailers, it’s more fun to window-shop for – and purchase – unusual gifts from local boutiques, pop-up stores or marketplaces. And if you prefer to shop online, there are many mom-and-pop e-tailers who sell a variety of specialty and craft products. Not only can an out-of-the-ordinary gift delight a friend or family member on your shopping list, so, too, can the story you’ll be able to share about where and from whom you purchased it.

2) Leave lots of “likes.” If you enjoyed your small business experience, take five minutes to write and post a review online, via Yelp, Google or other crowd-sourced business review sites and social media platforms. With limited marketing budgets, positive word-of-mouth may be the best way to help increase awareness of and spark sales at your favorite stores.

3) Grab holiday grub. While chain grocery stores are a great one-stop shopping option, they can’t compete with local farms, markets, produce stands, microbreweries and bakeries for locally grown or produced treats. Whether it’s locally ground cornmeal, grape-to-glass merlot from a nearby vineyard and winery, or mouthwatering schinkenbrot rolls from a German bakery, foods seem a bit tastier and drinks a bit sweeter when produced just down the road.

4) Shop kindly. If you are a fan of a local merchant’s goods, buy a few more items than usual. You or a gift recipient will love the special indulgence, and the merchant will appreciate the additional, well-deserved business boost.

5) Purchase now for later. Supporting small businesses by purchasing a gift card is a great way to contribute to their immediate cash flow during this busy season. The gift of a gift card can also help small businesses win new customers down the road.

Help make the holiday season merrier than ever for small local businesses. Your efforts may help them survive and thrive into 2022 and beyond.

Posted in BusinessComments Off on Five ways to support small businesses by shopping locally this holiday season

Six simple tips to protect yourself from online crime

(BPT) – Strange texts and curious emails requesting personal information. Unauthorized purchases on your credit card. New online accounts being opened in your name. Digital crime can vary greatly and is increasingly concerning as criminals get more sophisticated every day.

The Federal Trade Commission received 2.2 million fraud reports in 2020, including identity theft and imposter scams. The FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report stated losses exceeding $4.2 billion. Unfortunately, many experts predict digital crime to grow in the coming years, especially as large-scale data breaches become more common.

In fact, a recent survey from digital security company Aura in conjunction with Harris Poll revealed about three in four U.S. adults recognize that data breaches are serious. Further, 60% of people worry a lot about them and 53% are concerned about the safety of their personal information online.

“Today, Americans lose more money to digital crime than to home burglary,” said Hari Ravichandran, CEO and founder of Aura. “While we spend billions each year on home security systems, many people don’t even take the basic precautions to protect themselves online.”

Technology is an important part of daily life, so digital security should be taken seriously. According to the survey, eight in 10 people know they should be doing more to protect themselves online.

A proactive approach is the best way to keep you and your family safe. Ravichandran shares six simple ways to keep yourself, your information and finances secure.

1. Use complex passwords

Update passwords so they consist of a random combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Use a password manager to store and remember them. Continue to set up two factor authentication for your accounts and, when possible, opt to use an authentication app over text verification codes.

2. Check financial and medical statements monthly

Your financial and medical statements are often the first signs that you’ve been involved in a breach. Set transaction alerts through your bank to flag large purchases and check your monthly bank and credit card statements for fraudulent activity.

3. Monitor your credit

Stay familiar with what’s in your credit reports. Order a free annual report from all three credit bureaus to make sure that data in each credit report is accurate and matches the others. Additionally, consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service that continuously sends you alerts of any changes. If you notice any suspicious activity, take action right away and freeze your credit through an application like Aura or by contacting the credit bureaus to avoid potential damage to your credit that could take years to resolve.

4. Don’t ignore software updates

Hackers exploit security flaws in phone and computer operating systems in order to steal consumers’ data. When a company discovers a security flaw in their operating system, they’ll develop and release a patch to users. Until that patch is installed, the user and their information remains vulnerable.

5. Tighten social media privacy settings

Many people provide personal information like their name, birthday, job and hometown on their social media profiles. Remove personal information like this from online profiles and update your user settings to increase privacy on who can view your full profile and posts. Further, children under the age of 18 are often the target of child identity theft, because their credit score is completely unmarked. Posting information about your children on social media, even just their full names and birthdays, can be just as dangerous as posting your own.

6. Don’t click on links in emails or texts

Scams can be difficult to identify. As a rule, don’t click on links that are emailed or texted to you from unknown sources. Don’t respond to emails that ask for your personal information, and always be discerning when receiving offers that seem too good to be true.

All of these steps can be overwhelming, but with Aura’s simple subscription and easy-to-use app, you can have access to proactive digital security that alerts you to potential threats and helps resolve any issues. Members benefit from an experienced team of customer service professionals and a $1 million insurance policy to cover any losses from identity theft and fraud.

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Would your hobby make a good business?

Running a successful business centered on doing something you love is the dream of many entrepreneurs. What could be more gratifying than making a living sharing your talents and skills with others?

On the Internet, you’ll find a long list of articles and resources offering advice and insight specifically geared toward hobbyists who want to take the step and go from “passion” to “profit.” 

It’s not difficult to find success stories about everyday people—from photographers to interior designers to carpenters and others—who have turned hobbies and interests they were passionate about into viable businesses. 

That’s encouraging if you’re contemplating making the transition from hobbyist to small business owner. It’s important to know, however, that not all hobbies (and the people participating in them) may be well suited for entrepreneurship.

Here are some essential points to consider as you explore the feasibility of your hobby becoming a sustainable business:

  • Will you still enjoy doing the work after you have to do it (versus having the luxury of doing it only when you’re inspired to)?
  • Are you willing to put yourself out there? It’s one thing to work on your hobby for your own satisfaction and another to put what you produce out there to be scrutinized by others. 
  • Will people (and enough of them) be willing to pay for what you create?
  • Do you have the knowledge and capacity to both create your product or service AND take care of the other administrative and operational responsibilities that come with starting and running a business?

SCORE mentor Dennis Wright from the Orange County, California chapter suggests you take the following actions as you assess the viability of your hobby becoming a business that supports you and your family:

1. Identify who your prospective customer really is. Not everyone is going to be interested in your product or service.         

2. Determine the benefit you’ll be selling. What need or want will your product or service satisfy?   

3. Consider how you’ll communicate your value proposition and why your product or service is better than those of your competitors. 

4. Establish what your prospective customers would be willing to pay for your product or service. 

5. Do the math. Can you be profitable at that price point? Make sure you consider overhead costs in addition to cost of goods sold.   

“Once you complete your research and have the answers to those basic questions you’ll be ready to start drafting a business plan,” explains Wright. “A written plan is important because it helps identify the time, energy, and money necessary to take your hobby to another level.” 

If you need assistance in determining if you and your hobby are suited for small business, there are resources out there to help you. Consider taking advantage of the free mentoring services from SCORE, a nonprofit association offering a wealth of information resources, training, and free counseling designed to help entrepreneurs nationwide build productive, profitable businesses. 

A SCORE Counselor can serve as a sounding board and will provide valuable unbiased feedback on how to improve things. The SCORE Counselor can also look at the business from the perspective of a bank or other investor, and raise questions you may have overlooked.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 30 counselors in the Grand Rapids office of SCORE. Call 616-771-0305 for an appointment with a knowledgeable counselor or e-mail us at score@grandrapids.org.

Posted in Ask Score, BusinessComments Off on Would your hobby make a good business?

Save A Lot is now Price Cutter

Some of you have been wondering about the changes going on at Save A Lot. We received this information from them this week:

Save A Lot, located at 14301 White Creek, in Cedar Springs, was established in the year 2000 and has been proud to serve its customers in the greater Cedar Springs market since its opening. The store closed for remodeling and to change its product supplier on Monday, October 11th and reopened Saturday, October 16th as a Price Cutter grocery store. For the next several weeks we will continue to evolve adding another aisle of product to the store, greatly enhancing your selection of products.  We ask for our customer’s patience during our continued conversion to Price Cutter.

Price Cutter is part of Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc. a Kansas corporation founded in 1924 and is a member owned cooperative. They service well over 3,800 stores in 36 states with over $10 billion dollars in sales. 

The Price Cutter grocery model is designed to offer more than a limited assortment grocery store. Price Cutter is unparalleled in the greater Grand Rapids market thus providing our customers with the value of the nation’s leading limited assortment grocery store combined with a larger product assortment! We will continue to provide a wide assortment of value priced fresh produce and superior savings on our fresh butcher cut meats prepared daily at the store. Look for the Price Cutter phone app information inside the store that will present our weekly ad along with high value digital coupons on products in the store. 

We invite everyone to stop in and see for yourself the great new values on the high quality grocery products available everyday that Price Cutter brings to the greater Cedar Springs market area.  Hours of operation are Sunday 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-9 p.m.

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Benefits of using the Business Model Canvas

SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business

The Business Model Canvas is an entrepreneurial tool that enables you to visualize, design, and reinvent your business model. Swiss business theorist and author Alexander Osterwalder developed it. For many startups, using the tool can help them develop a clear view of their value proposition, operations, customers, and finances. As a small business owner, you can use it to identify how the different components of your business relate to each other. That’s powerful when deciding where you need to focus your time and attention as you start and grow your business.

“Many start up entrepreneurs and small businesses are so busy trying to get started and survive that they spend little time planning. When they do try to plan, they are often confused and don’t know where to start,” explains Bruce Gitlin, SCORE mentor and business development expert. “This tool sets an overarching framework for developing a business strategy, a detailed business plan, and/or a prioritized action plan.”

According to Gitlin, the Business Model Canvas can help move entrepreneurs to address specific risks and acquire more information (about competitors or a market niche, for example).

The Business Model Canvas has nine different areas of focus that make up building blocks in a visual representation of your business. 

  • Key Partners—Who are the buyers and suppliers you need to form relationships with? What other alliances will help you accomplish core business activities and fulfill your value proposition to customers?
  • Key Activities—What are the most important activities you must engage in to fulfill your value propositions, to secure distribution channels, to strengthen customer relationships, to optimize revenue streams, etc.?
  • Key Resources—What resources do you need to create value for your customers and sustain your business?
  • Value Propositions—What products and services will you offer to meet the needs of your customers? How will your business be different from your competition? What challenges will you solve for your customers?
  • Customer Relationships—What types of relationships will you forge with your customer segments? What are the relationship expectations of each customer segment? How are they entwined with the rest of your business model?
  • Customer Segments—What sets of customers will you serve? Which are most important to your business?
  • Channels—Through what means will you reach your targeted customers and deliver your products and services to them? Which are most cost effective? How are the channels integrated?
  • Cost Structure—What are the key costs your business will face? Which resources will cost the most? Which activities will cost the most?
  • Revenue Streams—How much will you charge for your products and services? What are customers willing to pay for? How will customers pay? How much will each revenue stream contribute to your overall revenue?

According to Gitlin, gaps in planning stand out when using the tool, making it effective for entrepreneurs who are new to starting and running a business. 

“The Business Model Canvas helps visualize what is important and forces users to address key areas. It can also be used by a team (employees and/or advisors) to understand relationships and reach agreements.” 

Further advice on the Business Model Canvas is available from SCORE, a nonprofit association offering a wealth of information resources, training, and free counseling designed to help entrepreneurs nationwide build productive, profitable businesses. 

A SCORE Counselor can serve as a sounding board and will provide valuable unbiased feedback on how to improve things. The SCORE Counselor can also look at the business from the perspective of a bank or other investor and raise questions you may have overlooked.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 30 counselors in the Grand Rapids office of SCORE. Call 616-771-0305 for an appointment with a knowledgeable counselor or e-mail us at score@grandrapids.org.  

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The tax responsibilities that come with shutting down a business

From the IRS

There are many reasons a business owner may choose to close their doors, and there are many things that must be done to go out of business. Two important steps all business owners must take are fulfilling their federal tax responsibilities and informing the IRS of their plans. The closing a business page of IRS.gov is designed to help owners navigate the process of shutting down.

Small businesses and self-employed taxpayers will find a variety of information on the page including:

• What forms to file

• How to report revenue received in the final year of business

• How to report expenses incurred before closure

The page also details steps all business owners should take when closing a business.

File a final tax return and related forms. The type of return to file and related forms depends on the type of business.

Take care of employees. Business owners with one or more employees must pay any final wages or compensation, make final federal tax deposits and report employment taxes.

Pay taxes owed. Even if the business closes now, tax payments may be due next filing season.

Report payments to contract workers. Businesses that pay contractors at least $600 for services including parts and materials during the calendar year in which they go out of business, must report those payments.

Cancel EIN and close IRS business account. Business owners should notify the IRS so they can close the IRS business account.

Keep business records. How long a business needs to keep records depends on what’s recorded in each document.

The page also provides helpful information for business owners declaring bankruptcy, selling their business and terminating retirement plans.

Posted in Business, Tax TimeComments Off on The tax responsibilities that come with shutting down a business

IRS resources to help small business employers understand and meet their tax responsibilities

Last week was National Small Business Week. The IRS acknowledges that small business employers have unique tax responsibilities, and they make valuable contributions to the economy. The agency has a variety of information and resources to help employers understand and meet these unique tax responsibilities. Most of these resources are available anytime at IRS.gov.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new legislation was enacted to aid not only struggling business owners, but also individuals. Employers have direct access to people who may be eligible for advance Child Tax Credit payments. The IRS is asking employers to help spread the word about these payments during National Small Business Week.

Materials for employers and others who can help are available on the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/2021-child-tax-credit-and-advance-child-tax-credit-payments-resources-and-guidance.

Other IRS online resources can help employers answer common tax-related questions about worker classification, employment taxes deadlines, what forms to file and more. Here are a few of these resources:

Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center 

This page features links to useful tools and common IRS forms with instructions. Taxpayers can find help on topics such as starting or operating a business, recordkeeping, filing and paying taxes. A link to the IRS Tax Calendar for Businesses and Self-Employed also provides at-a-glance key tax dates for businesses. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed

Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center

This a great resource for sole proprietors and others who are in business for themselves. This site has many handy tips and references to tax rules a self-employed person may need to know. Self-employed taxpayers will find info on a variety of topics, including how to make quarterly payments and self-employed tax obligations. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/self-employed-individuals-tax-center

Sharing Economy Tax Center

For taxpayers engaged in the sharing economy, this site provides answers to tax questions, links to forms and resources related to the sharing economy. The gig economy—also called sharing economy or access economy—is activity where people earn income providing on-demand work, services or goods. Often, it’s through a digital platform like an app or website. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/gig-economy-tax-center

Small Business Forms and Publications

Employers can select and download multiple small business and self-employed forms and publications or call 800-829-3676 to order forms and publications through the mail. Aspiring entrepreneurs who are unsure which tax publications may be relevant to them should review the Starting a Business section (https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/starting-a-business), for an overview of federal tax responsibilities. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/small-business-forms-and-publications

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St. Julian scores 16 Medals including a double Gold

Judgement of Michigan Wine Competition

PAW PAW, MI – Michigan’s largest and longest operating winery, St. Julian Winery, brought home 16 medals last month from the first ever Judgement of Michigan wine competition presented by the Michigan Wine Collaborative and Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor.

The event brought together 21 judges – referred to as “The Judging Squad” – including a blend of restauranteurs, media, retail and wholesale representatives from around the state and country to evaluate over 350 Michigan wines from about 45 local wineries.

“MWC focused on selecting wine professionals which represented our vision of what the wine industry looks like on the ground,” according to Executive Director Emily. “Diverse career paths, lifestyles, backgrounds, and impact in the wine industry.” Some judges experienced Michigan wine for the first time during this competition, bringing their “super fresh palates and really fresh, new perspective” to the event.

Judges awarded a total of eight Double Gold medals, 33 Gold, 58 Silver and 76 Bronze medals during this inaugural competition. Of those, St. Julian claimed one Double Gold, three Gold, seven Silver and five Bronze to add to its impressive award portfolio – more than any other winery in the competition.

DOUBLE GOLD:

Solera Cream Sherry

GOLD:

2020 Braganini Reserve Lake Harvest Vignoles

2020 Braganini Reserve Serious Rosé

2020 Braganini Resererve Sauvignon Blanc

SILVER:

Cock of the Walk

Sweet Nancie

2020 St. Julian Reserve Pinot Grigio

2020 Braganini Reserve Grüner Veltliner

WS Blaufränkisch Rosé

2020 Braganini Reserve Porpetto

2020 Braganini Reserve Traminette

BRONZE:

2020 WS White Cabernet Franc

2020 Braganini Reserve Mountain Road White Blend

2020 WS Harvest Select Vidal/Vignoles

WS La Crescent/Traminette

2020 Braganini Reserve Mountain Road Rosé

“While we regularly participate in wine competitions around the country, it is an honor to be recognized here at home – especially within our own AVA region,” notes Nancie Oxley, Vice President of Winemaking at St. Julian. “This competition also provided us the opportunity to have our wines tasted by some who may not be familiar with our products as well as introduce our wines to a broader sector within our industry.”

Earlier this year, St. Julian was presented with 6 Medals at the 14th Annual American Fine Wine Competition, 15 medals at the 2021 International Women’s Wine Competition; 8 medals at the 2021 Experience Rosé Wine Competition, and 13 medals – including two “Best of Class” Gold Medals – at the International Eastern Wine Competition.

St. Julian, which is distributed in five states outside of Michigan, currently operates six tasting rooms within the state – Paw Paw, Dundee, Frankenmuth, Troy, Rockford, and Union Pier.

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