Dead Hippie Brewing, a neighborhood favorite in the south Denver suburb of Sheridan, closed for good the day before Thanksgiving, becoming the 28th brewery in Colorado to go out of business in 2020.
The owners, Dean and Cheryl Edmundson, didn’t mention the coronavirus pandemic specifically in a Facebook note, saying only that they have had “many great times and have so many memories, but it is time to bring this chapter of our life to an end.” But the news came exactly one week after Governor Jared Polis announced new restrictions on restaurants and breweries that prevent them from seating customers indoors.
And those restrictions could finally break some breweries, according to Shawnee Adelson, executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild. “Winter is always the slowest season for breweries, and with the current restrictions, it may be a bleak winter for many," she says. Although the results of the special legislative session, which concluded on December 2, could yield some financial support for breweries struggling to get through the winter, Adelson notes that "it may not be enough, and we may see more breweries close in early 2021."
At least a third of the 28 breweries that have shut their doors in 2020 did so before the pandemic hit, while nearly another third went under for reasons not directly related to COVID-19. So far, the pandemic can really lay claim to only about a dozen brewery closures so far this year — though 2020 is certainly not over. (The Colorado Brewery List blog and the Colorado Beer Geek Facebook page track every brewery opening and closing in Colorado, and provided the number of closings to Westword.)
But that is enough, of course, and many brewery owners are warning customers — and politicians — that without some sort of renewed government aid package, continued dedicated customer support and less severe seating restrictions, the numbers could climb.
“We are getting closer to the precipice each day,” Strange Craft Beer Company owner Tim Myers wrote in a “call to action” on Facebook two weeks ago. “As the COVID pandemic rages on and restrictions on small businesses tighten drastically, one thing is certain — many of our favorite small businesses will be gone before this pandemic nightmare is over.”
Although most restaurants and breweries “continue to follow” precautions and do “their very best to keep customers safe,” the state has continued to tighten capacity limits, Myers points out. “First it was to go only, then 50 percent maximum occupancy indoors, and then 25 percent. And now, [as of 5 p.m. on November 20], 0 percent for indoor seating.”
In Loveland, Grimm Brothers Brewhouse chief financial officer Morgen Harrington is helping to lead a rebellion by more than seventy Larimer County businesses, including restaurants, bars, salons, gyms and at least five other breweries, which have vowed to continue to serve guests indoors in spite of the most recent state mandate; they believe it’s unfair that much larger businesses, like groceries and big-box stores, are allowed to stay open — even after there have been outbreaks — while smaller businesses bear the brunt of the restrictions.
The Larimer County businesses (here is their GoFundMe page) say they will maintain the 50 percent capacity regulation that had been in effect over the summer and fall. Most will still require masks, but they call the tighter restrictions “a death sentence” to their operations. (A few of these businesses have agreed to reduce capacity again while Larimer County and the state work on a special variance.)
Crystal Springs Brewing in Louisville, meanwhile, has set up its own GoFundMe page to help it survive through the winter; the owners, who both contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic, have already raised nearly $4,000 from loyal customers and supporters; the brewery is asking for $5,000.
Beyond that, many small brewery owners have written intense or pleading messages to their customers, asking them to continue to support small businesses of all kinds.
"Coloradans have stepped up and supported local businesses, and we're asking them to do so again," Adelson says. "It is now more important than ever to support local craft breweries."
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