No doubt many Americans celebrate the holiday weekend with their favorite microbrew IPA, porter or Shandy in hand, thinking more about their beer’s flavor, finish and wallop than its economic footprint. However, it so happens that the growing ranks of microbrew loyalists have not only fueled the surge in regional and specialty beer popularity, but by putting their money where their thirst is, they’ve seeded vast swaths of urban renewal in the neighborhoods where their microbrewery of choice stands.
A June 3 Associated Press story posted on cbsnews.com
details how microbreweries have been at the epicenter of many a neighborhood revival since the first small brewers started renting abandoned warehouses in decaying urban neighborhoods 30 years ago to produce beers to their liking. Many of the first of the new generation of microbrewers started with home brewing, and went into business after finding their brews were popular among family and friends. According to AP, while the beer was the thing, the arrival of a microbrewery also heralded change in the neighborhood. This has proven true in cities across the country. The AP noted that around each successful microbrewery, new business sprung up, abandoned buildings were converted to offices, trendy condominiums and apartment buildings, and vibrant communities that were magnets for young professionals took root.
Cleveland-based Great Lakes Brewery is a prime example of the “microbrewery” effect. Its owners set up shop in 1988 in an abandoned feed store in the Ohio City neighborhood on the near west side of Cleveland, hard by downtown and the Cuyahoga River. The neighborhood, which was once home to thousands of workers who toiled at the nearby steel mills and auto plants, had long before been largely run down and abandoned as the manufacturing work disappeared. Great Lakes quickly established a foothold, and other businesses followed. Restaurants and taverns, a bike shop,and pasta and tortilla makers have opened nearby, all on a street anchored by the revitalized West Side Market, an indoor farmer’s market that houses more than 100 vendors peddling meat, baked goods, produce and cheeses.
The microbrewery itself expanded into the abandoned livery and saloon next door to open a brewpub. “We resurrected all of them,” Great Lakes co-founder Pat Conway told AP. “We’ve beautified the neighborhood, provided a stunning restoration.”
But beautification, and gentrification, can come at a steep price, and some microbreweries are becoming victims of their own success. Brooklyn Brewery, for instance, found a home among the vacant warehouses of the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn in 1996, when the area had little going for it. And 17 years later, now trendy Williamsburg, whose revitalization was sparked in large part by the brewery, may be too expensive for the pioneering enterprise. In the past decade alone, home values in Williamsburg have increased by 145 percent. When Brooklyn Brewery’s lease expires in 2025, co-founder Steve Hindy frets that the brewers will be sent packing so the building can be converted to apartments.
“We sowed the seeds of our own demise here,” said Hindy, who is already looking at other Brooklyn locations, according to AP.
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