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I'll talk

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  • I'll talk

    I consider myself somewhere in the middle of the optimist->pessimist continuum - trying to be realistic in this post for sure. I feel the need to post some realism (which is likely to be read as pessimism, and maybe it is) somewhere and, as a brewery owner, this seems like an ok place (thanks, Probrewer).

    My brewery is going to be hit particularly hard by COVID as I am in the middle of moving my brewery to a new location due to a lease issue. We just started test brewing last week and have our first beers in the tanks. We haven't brewed since October nor packaged since November. I had just enough beer packaged to make it until this week. Luckily (or not, haha) we didn't run out of beer, but that was mostly because of COVID. We would have just barely made it (high five to self for planning accurately).

    Part of the move included rehabbing a building and extending our debt to the edge of what a business should carry. At this point I have enough cash to pay the contractors when they are finished (we saved about $50-$75k by moving and refitting the brewery side ourselves, the tasting room with all the code/occupancy issues was the real expense). I think, pre COVID, we would have 'made it' and then struggled to pay down debt to a reasonable level over the next year or two but would have gotten back to a similarly healthy business condition.

    Now, however, COVID coupled with a general slow down of our tap room (as I suspect many are seeing) probably due to the pendulum swinging more toward wine lately and the popularity of seltzers, plus us being around for over a decade and getting 'old and dull' as opposed to 'new and shiny' had already reduced our revenues close to the tipping point.

    My point isn't to whine about our situation - it is what it is, but to at least say out loud what I KNOW a lot of breweries are feeling but that I'm not really hearing about. That is, general slow down of business revenues (except maybe in very populated areas, my town is 8k folks) especially in small breweries in rural areas which I estimate to be maybe 70% of the 8k breweries in the USA. So, I think the small brewery business is slow. January and February are particularly slow. I imagine all of us were looking forward to business picking up in March/April. Now it won't.

    And, yes, to-go sales may help a little. My number suggest that, in my market, I may generate 5-10% of my regular sales if I'm lucky. But the few days last week we've done to-go sales literally no one showed. And I'm not mad about that. But stop posting to social media to support small businesses if you can't/won't/don't want to/aren't able to. So yeah. We aren't generating any revenue for the foreseeable future. And mostly I'd rather not contribute in any way to the intermingling of potentially sick people even if the effect is theoretically minimal. What really gets my goat is that several local alcohol related businesses are open 'as usual' with absolutely no distancing measures. I just couldn't live with myself.

    And by my math I will be spending a MINIMUM of $10k/month (likely more) just to pay all the stupid bills business have to pay. Even if I shut off the power and water (which I won't, to avoid having to reconnect services - see, I'm optimistic). I don't think to-go or delivery services, in my market, would generate anything close to those revenues. Using my historical sales as an indicator I maybe could eek out a few k per month. Yes, that would help but, again, I would be putting staff and the public close together to some degree. Not worth it to me.

    So. For each month of COVID quarantine I expect to go another $10k in debt. Which will put me $10, $20, $30k into the debt region I have avoided for ten years and will take exponentially more time to bail out of. IF I CAN FIND THAT CASH. Yes, potentially a disaster related zero percent SBA loan if those exist and can be processed in time.

    Just throwing this out there for anyone else tired of seeing only the best-case-scenario or the lack-of-details mentions of small business fears during this time. It is very real for me, my partners, my employees, my family, and my community if we fail to persist. Going to be very interesting on the other side. So to all those breweries fearing for their future - I feel y'all.

    And to all those breweries making it work through this with deliveries and to-go sales -GOOD FOR YOU! Congratulations for pivoting and making it work. You will be the seeds of the future in the worst case scenario that a bunch of us tiny breweries in rural areas end up having to close.

    For me, I hope to weather the storm and that this will path in another two months. Our new taproom will be finished, be new-and-shiny, and is likely to generate some revenue again. We will probably survive. I know there are others out there who may not.

    best of luck to all

    Chris Burcher, Wolf Hills
    Abingdon, VA

  • #2
    Thank you

    Thank you for taking the time to share your situation.
    Wish you the best and stay safe.


    • #3
      Thank you to everyone who has shared their experiences so far on this thread.
      Please everyone stay safe.