5 ways people are supporting their local breweries during Coronavirus shutdowns

Chris Barclay is glad he can still get carry-out from his local brewery.For Chris Barclay and Matt Brown, restricted access to their local brewery means more than just losing a place to drink beer. The regulars at HomeGrown Brewing Company in Oakland County refer to their bartenders as “family” and describe the state-wide closures, due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns, as a loss of connection. 

“HomeGrown is an extension of my home,” said Barclay. “It’s devastating not having that part of the community.”

This week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order to temporarily close down theaters, bars, and restaurants, limiting the state’s 465 breweries to carry-out and delivery orders only.

“This is about saving lives,” Whitmer said in a press release. “Michiganders are tough and we are going to get through this, but it will require everyone doing their part.”

The economic impact for small-scale breweries is brutal. Craft beer is almost a billion dollar industry for the state, according to a recent study by Michigan State University, and closures mean the dismissal of many wage-earning employees.

While Michigan’s governor has this week requested relief for small businesses, via an Economic Injury Disaster declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the reaction within neighborhoods has been more personal. 

“The community must rally for this place to weather the storm,” says Barclay.

Here’s five ways neighborhoods are supporting their local breweries during the shutdowns:

Griffin Claw Brewing Company has launched a carry-out and delivery service.

Picking up carry-out

Birmingham’s Griffin Claw Brewing Company is one of many in the state now promoting their curbside carry-out menu, which launched on Tuesday. They’ve reduced their staff to a skeleton crew but have committed to donating all gratuities on food and beer orders to their servers and bartenders.

“We are absolutely amazed by the outpouring of support from the local community,” says taproom manager Rachel Stemplewski.

Creative staff at the brewery have even been able to create their own hand sanitizer using neutral grain spirits from their distillery, which they then include in all carry-out orders.

Sales team member Daniel Terzano says Griffin Claw’s to-go beer and food orders have increased “exponentially” this week. “It’s been powerful to see how the community has supported us.”

Motor City Brew Tours has set up a list of breweries in metro Detroit supplying carry-out.

Pre-purchasing beers/tipping staff

Detroit stalwart Batch Brewing Company are known for their leadership in the industry, with the founding of the Feel Good Tap program and community initiatives. Owners Stephen Roginson and Jason Williams say their decision to close entirely during the shutdown is because carry-out business alone won't sustain the Corktown brewery. 

“We've had to lay off our entire staff,” Roginson announced on the brewery’s website. “So, we're asking you to help us supplement their lost income.” 

Batch Brewing has established a GoFundMe campaign that pre-purchases $5 beers and rolls any extra over as a tip to employees. More than $6,000 has already been donated.

“We all depend on the 15 million people working in the restaurant and hospitality industry in the United States,” says Johnson. “Right now, they're all depending on us.”

Beer delivery

For breweries like Eastern Market Brewing Co. launching a delivery service may be the key to surviving the closures. Delivering beer to homes is legal in Michigan and the brewery will begin the service this weekend. 

Operating out of its new Ferndale operation, the brewery is enlisting nearly half of its employees to initially offer delivery within the Oakland County area and aim to eventually serve wider Detroit and Southeast Michigan.

Brooks Brewing Company is another brewery doing small-scale delivery (within three miles) of their Ferndale taproom, offering beer, pizza and snacks. They are working on doing the same for their Shelby location and have seen support from their regulars.

“I would like to personally thank some of our great long-time customers for coming out and showing support during the last hour of our legal serving hours,” owner Cary Brooks Jr wrote on a social media post.

Buying gift cards

Eastern Market Brewing Co are providing daily ideas on social media about how to support small breweries, including buying gift cards. Owner Dayne Bartscht says his heart goes out to everyone impacted by COVID-19.

"And, as of late, to all of our fellow Michigan craft brewers and many friends in the industry," Bartscht posted on Facebook this week.

In Oxford, Barclay and Brown’s usual hangout, the downtown area has promoted a Give Oxford Credit campaign, to encourage residents to buy gift certificates from businesses along the main street.

Jeff Powers, general manager at HomeGrown Brewing Company, has witnessed the support of the community during their transition to carry-out only.

Planning ahead

Booking a future event at a brewery is another way customers are demonstrating their loyalty. 

“Rather than cancelling an event, a lot of our guests are rescheduling for later in the year, ensuring we don’t lose investments in our brewery,” says HomeGrown general manager Jeff Powers. 

“Folks are also asking if they can sign up for future events like our beer-pairing dinners and while it’s not a financial down-payment it certainly boosts morale,” says Powers.
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Kate Roff is an award-winning freelance writer and journalism educator, currently based out of Detroit. She is the managing editor of Metromode and Model D. Contact her at kroff@issuemediagroup.com