For the past four years, Factotum Brewhouse owners Chris and Laura Bruns have unwaveringly cheered and promoted the sometimes overlooked Sunnyside neighborhood in north Denver. But the return on their emotional investment isn't turning out to be what they were hoping for: The owner of the building Factotum calls home, at 3845 Lipan Street, has put the space up for rent after failing to work out a continuing lease agreement with the brewery.
Siblings Chris and Laura explain that the landlord, Bryce Boyer, is seeking a much higher rate than they can afford. “We have some options we're mulling around in our minds on what to do next. But at the new rates [Boyer] wanted versus what kind of traffic we have, it wasn't sustainable on our end," Laura says. "The current asking price is more per square foot than the many empty storefronts that are located on the much more heavily trafficked 38th Avenue.
"I personally know of brewery owners that have pulled out second and third mortgages on their house to keep up with rising rental rates in Denver," she adds. "That is not something we’re comfortable doing. In return for being great tenants for the past five years, we had asked for a couple of months of free rent with our renewal, something we were told was an industry standard, or a reduced rate for one year. Both ideas were nixed.
“I'm more than happy to speak with any brewery that might be interested in the space to talk about the kind of numbers/traffic our neighborhood sees," Bruns concludes. "The few that I thought might be interested in the space have all agreed that the rental rates are aggressive, but there's always someone out there with deep pockets."
Factotum will remain open for the time being, but will have to close up shop if a new tenant is found. Bruns would love to recruit “an entity that could use or rent the space during the day” (similar to the arrangement between Novel Strand Brewing and Queen City Collective Coffee in the Baker neighborhood), since Factotum doesn’t open until 4 p.m. on weekdays. So far, though, she hasn’t found a taker.
Boyer is a photographer who has worked in Sunnyside for two decades. “The situation isn’t ideal for either of us,” he says. “Factotum had the first rights to renew but have told me they haven’t been profitable enough to sign a new five-year lease. We are giving Factotum a fantastic deal on rent while we shop for a new tenant so they can save some money and so I don’t have an empty building. ... I really like Chris and Laura, so I’m sorry it hasn’t been as financially rewarding as they had hoped.”
Boyer used the building as his photography studio for six years “until the increasing property taxes made it financially impractical for me to continue using the space for my own photo business," he says. "I was really sad to have to give up the space, but I had to look at my profit/loss statement, which told me the best choice was to make some changes to survive financially. I think Chris and Laura are in the same place I was five years ago. I feel their pain, but I can’t afford to support their business out of my own pocketbook.”
The situation will also affect Lady Justice Brewing, which joined Factotum in the building last October by using an alternating proprietorship agreement. Lady Justice sells memberships to beer drinkers and donates the majority of its sales to local nonprofits for women and girls, but that brewery is growing and has been searching for its own taproom since before partnering with Factotum.
“We're bursting at the beer seams yet again and are ready for our next chapter,” says Lady Justice co-owner and head brewer Betsy Lay. “We will be moving out in June to focus our energy on finding and fixing up a home of our own. A fundraising campaign will be launched soon to help with these efforts.”
The Bruns may also try to move Factotum, if they can find an affordable space. For now, though, the two breweries will continue operating as normal, says Laura.
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