Feb 25

Demand Equality! Allow Specialty Beer/Wine Stores of all sizes to obtain WA Liquor licenses

In Washington State, BevMo and Total Wine & More are licensed as Specialty Beer/Wine Stores — and they can get a Liquor license. My store is licensed as a Specialty Beer/Wine Store and I am unable to get a Liquor license.

The difference? Building size.

#DemandEquality

Washington State Senators have acknowledged the need to give small Specialty Beer/Wine Store the right to sell craft distilled spirits, voting overwhelmingly in favor of SSB 5731 (43 Yea, 4 Nay). The bill went before the Government Accountability & Oversight committee on Monday, February 24, and Committee Chair Representative Christopher Hurst refused to put it up for vote, calling it not “prime time.” Our legislative contacts say he’s been pressuring his committee members to vote no. This is a bill sponsored by a Democrat and it’s being held hostage by a Democrat.

We are in favor! Our customers are in favor! Washington Small Distillers are in favor! The Washington Retail Association is in favor! Why does Rep. Hurst refuse to support Washington small businesses? Why does he refuse to put it to a vote?

We need your help to move this bill through committee and enact it into law. Speak up and show your support of local, family owned small businesses. We need a public record; we need a vote.

EMAIL – EMAIL – EMAIL!
PHONE CALL – PHONE CALL – PHONE CALL!
NOW – NOW – NOW!

Email – ASAP

To: christopher.hurst@leg.wa.gov,sharon.wylie@leg.wa.gov, cary.condotta@leg.wa.gov, jeff.holy@leg.wa.gov, brian.blake@leg.wa.gov,steve.kirby@leg.wa.gov, luis.moscoso@leg.wa.gov, matt.shea@leg.wa.gov, brandon.vick@leg.wa.gov

Cc: karen.keiser@leg.wa.gov

Subject: Vote ESSB 5731 out of committee

Text:

Dear Representatives,

I shop at specialty beer/wine stores and demand that these businesses be treated fairly in Washington State. Specialty beer/wine stores should be able to attain a license to sell liquor regardless of building size. Stop the corporate favortism. Allow small specialty beer/wine stores to carry craft spirits. Please vote YES on ESSB 5731 and move it out of committee this week.

Sincerely, [YOUR NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE]

Phone – ASAP
Rep. Chris Hurst (360-786-7866)
Rep. Sharon Wylie (360-786-7924)
Rep. Cary Condotta (360-786-7954)
Rep. Jeff Holy (360-786-7962)
Rep. Steve Kirby (360-786-7996)
Rep. Luis Moscoso (360-786-7900)
Rep. Matt Shea(360-786-7984)
Rep. Brandon Vick (360-786-7850)
Rep. Brian Blake (360-786-7870) – Rep. Blake is on board! Please thank him!

Let’s go get ‘em!

Feb 25

An open letter to the Government Accountability & Oversight Committee

Dear Representatives and Members of the House Government Accountability & Oversight Committee,

Two years ago the Washington State Liquor Board sold a bum lot of stores to many first generation Americans, giving them hope that jumping into the liquor business would fulfill their business dreams.

But what’s happened since then?
More than 60% of the former state-run liquor stores have gone out of business.

Without the understanding of how to operate a small specialty alcohol business, and with high licensing fees, the remaining liquor stores are now targeting other small Washington businesses, and yesterday at the Government Accountability & Oversight Public Hearing it was clear they won over Representative Hurst and other members.

Home-grown specialty beer/wine stores have also been suffering inequalities, with the inability to fairly compete against the corporatization of Washington’s liquor sales. BevMo and Total Wine & More corporations have entered the state in full-force, targeting neighborhood small business; Total Wine even ran radio ad campaigns painting small wine shop owners as “snobs.”

But we specialty beer/wine store owners aren’t snobs.

We don’t have an advantage over small liquor stores.

Like the small liquor store owners, we have mortgaged our houses and hedged our bets on selling a State and Federally regulated product. Like the former Contract Liquor Store owners, we didn’t have the ability to predict the future — a future where the State was no longer in the business of selling alcohol, a future where Washington State voters would choose to replace State control with privatization, which has ultimately become corporatization.

What has happened since the privatization/corporatization has been a threat not just to the former state stores, but also to neighborhood specialty beer/wine stores.

Our goal is to operate sustainable businesses, to share our passion of our products with our customers.

Like small liquor stores, we are trying to keep our businesses IN business.

All we are asking for is an equal chance.

Instead of targeting other small businesses, the Government Accountability & Oversight Committee and fellow small business owners (liquor stores) should be LOOKING OUT FOR ALL SMALL BUSINESSES.

Yesterday I attended and testified at my first legislative session. I felt my business deflated, devalued, and that my very own Constituent, Representative Hurst, didn’t have the back of my small business as he announced that SSB 5731 wasn’t “prime time.” What will make it prime time? My business closing? The loss of my property that secured loans to open my business? What makes one small business owner more important than another?

Our bill, Senate Bill 5731 would allow Specialty Beer/Wine Stores to carry specialty craft distilled spirits.

That is, it would allow Washington business to provide Washington product to Washington consumers.

During the public testimony, it was clear that the owners of the auctioned liquor stores and former contract stores gave sway to the committee. I also felt compassion and sympathy for their situation, but please rest assured that this bill, SSB 5731, does not pit small business vs. small business.

As a specialty alcohol retailer, we are passionate and knowledgeable about our product, we have a unique selection of beer not found in box stores or liquor stores — and our focus on craft spirits would be working with small distilleries not offered by the corporate chains. As many of these tiny craft distilleries have not been pursued by former state liquor stores, we would not be taking away any of their customers or profits in this area.

As a specialty beer/wine store, we appeal to a different customer base than that of auctioned liquor stores. We treat our customers like family — many regulars comment, “It’s like Cheers!” (TV show) “Where everyone knows your name.” If our store didn’t exist, our customers would likely seek their specialty beers from taverns with off-premise sales endorsements or big box chains such as BevMo and Total Wine & More.

So, I ask you, members of the Accountability & Oversight Committee, why does my investment count less? Why is my small business less important?

You are going out of your way to help people who were misled into a losing situation. While I totally feel for them, I can’t help but think about my mentors.

Ric & Diann, owners of Corky Cellars, our mentors and inspiration.

After privatization, their auctioned neighborhood liquor store closed. Many of their customers began to drive outside the neighborhood for liquor, to Total Wine & More and BevMo, making a single stop they didn’t return as frequently to their local specialty wine store. Sales decreased.

Senator Keiser knew the value of the neighborhood shop. She loved supporting small business, and knew that many of her neighbors also would prefer to buy both their specialty spirits and wine from Corky Cellars. Last year she sponsored the bill to allow specialty beer/wine stores to sell craft spirits. Last year it stopped in the House. Again, this year we find it stopped in the House.

This leaves me wondering: Why is the House anti-small business?

If it’s small business vs small business you are making this decision upon, why are you going out of your way to help people who were misled? While I feel for them, what about us? I don’t want my business to be a casualty in this corporatization, like Corky Cellars, like The Grape Adventure, like so many others. We have been harmed by the corporatization just as much, if not more, than the former state store owners. While they have had the ability to branch into craft beer and wine, we have not been given the ability to branch into craft spirits.

The playing field is unfair for small businesses and corporations.

I sincerely hope that you’ll give us the same consideration that you’re giving to auctioned liquor stores.
Vote YEA on SSB 5731 this week.

So many specialty shops have already gone out of business. In two days (February 27) Total Wine & More will be opening their newest location, 20 blocks north of my specialty beer store. The former state liquor store that was located two blocks from me closed a long time ago; I will not be taking any customers from them. Vote YES on SSB 5731 to allow me to diversify into craft spirits in effort to retain existing neighborhood customers, rather than push them out to Total Wine.

There’s a reason that SSB 5731, which was OVERWHELMINGLY APPROVED BY THE SENATE (43 yea, 4 nay). The Senate understands that it’s our only chance to remain in business, a potential chance to compete against out-of-state corporate businesses.

Yesterday leaving Olympia, I couldn’t help but feel I just left a dogfight, where the committee was hedging bets against two small under dogs, Former State Liquor Stores vs. Specialty Beer/Wine Stores.

It shouldn’t have felt like that.

The focus shouldn’t be on pitting the underdogs against each other. The focus should be on giving both underdogs the best tools they can get, the best training they can get, in order to better compete against the big dog.

Both small alcohol business models should able to equally compete against the corporate liquor chains.

I live in Sumner, my husband and I chose to open our small business in Federal Way as we felt, seven years ago, that it was the best location to open a specialty alcohol business that would be able to thrive in an economy that was looking to take a down turn. We chose wisely. But then the privatization happened. Our sales went from increasing every year, to dropping 14% last year. I have not just one household to support with my small business, but also those of a full time and two part time employees.

The Total Wine opening 20 blocks from my business won’t be carrying small Washington distilled spirits, but I could, if SB 5731 would be approved. That would give my business an opportunity to against a corporate big-box retailer, the ability to retain my employees, and peace of mind that my customers will continue to shop with me.

It’s time for our legislators to pay more attention to us small business owners.

It’s time to give small business a fighting chance against big corporate America.

I need you, small businesses need you– Representative Hurst, Representative Wylie, Representative Condotta, Representative Holy, Representative Kirby, Representative Moscoso, Representative Shea, and Representative Vick, to join Representative Blake in a YEA to APPROVE SSB 5731 to proceed to the House for approval. Don’t stand in the way of small business. Stop giving advantage to corporations.

We don’t need legislators who are pitting small business against small business; we don’t need legislators who are continuing to give advantage to corporate America. We need legislators who are representing the people.

Sincerely, with respect, and in support of all small business,
Tiffany Adamowski
Owner & Shopkeeper

99 Bottles
35002 Pacific Hwy S, A102
Federal Way, WA 98003
(253) 838-2558 store

Feb 24

Small business support not of “Prime Time” importance, says Rep. Hurst

2/24/2014 Washington State House -- Government & Accountability Committee, SSB 5731Today I went to Olympia to testify before the Washington State Government & Accountability Committee, of which Representative Christopher Hurst is chair. I live in Rep. Hurst’s district, and I was there in support of SSB 5731, which would allow Specialty Beer/Wine Stores to sell craft distilled spirits.

I was optimistic going in, as SSB 5731 has already overwhelmingly passed the Senate (43 Yea, 4 Nay), but felt it necessary to attend and give testimony as this bill could ultimately mean life or death for Specialty Beer/Wine Stores like mine.

A little background…
Seven years ago my husband and I quit our full-time jobs and embarked on a new journey as entrepreneurs. We opened a little Specialty Beer Store just nine miles from home, over in Federal Way. It is called 99 Bottles. There we have had the joy of sharing our passion of craft beer with others, selling local, import and American beers.

Two years ago voters approved 1183 to privatize liquor sales in Washington State. Since that time, sales margins have started to go downhill…

We look at options for diversification. Our first choice would be to bring in craft spirits. Our dream was always to run a specialty alcohol store, not a tavern. But the law, as is, won’t allow us to bring in spirits. Why?

Approval of 1183 made Washington State Law state that to sell liquor a store must be 10,000-square feet or larger, be a former state store or meet another criteria which we do not.

Flash-forward two years: 60% of the former state liquor stores have gone out of business. National corporate chains BevMo and Total Wine & More are taking advantage of Washington Liquor Laws written in their favor. We fight against these billion-dollar corporate liquor chains for customers…in beer sales only.

Neighborhood wine stores such as Corky Cellars (Des Moines, our “inspiration” for our business idea) and The Grape Adventure (Kent) are unable to branch into craft spirits to bridge the gap of income needed to operate and go out of business. Other neighborhood beer and wine stores see margins decrease, decrease, decrease… including my beers store and wine shops like Western Washington’s #1 Wine Store: The Wine Alley.

The law, as written, clearly gives advantage to corporations.
(Like they need to be given more advantages.)

As a small business, we are unable to compete on a fair playing ground — unable to carry craft spirits — because of our “lack of square footage,” we seek support of our legislators to revise the law. We would like to be able to carry spirits produced by small Washington craft distilleries, by distilleries who produce such small volume that they don’t produce enough to be sold in mega-stores. We want to be able to carry craft spirits that are produced by craft breweries who also distill.

But we can’t.

Why? Because the law says my shop has to be 10,000-square feet to sell liquor.
It’s over 8,500-square feet too small.

Why does the law give favor to a big business?

1183 was originally written for big business, by big business, and to give former state liquor stores a fighting chance. It’s been 1-1/2 years since liquor sales became privatized in Washington State and the outcome is this:

(1) Over 60% of the former state liquor stores have gone out of business, unable to compete. Most remaining have converted into convenience stores (“C-stores”), even though our State Legislators were opposed to C-stores selling liquor as they have the highest incidence of selling to minors. We are told by these owners they are still doing their part in checking IDs, selling legally and preventing theft.

(2) Favor continues to be given to corporations. In Washington State we traded State-run liquor sales not for “privatization” but for “corporatization” — with small, independent, local Specialty Beer/Wine Stores not even given the same opportunity to sell craft spirits.

Today I sat and listened to the owners of small liquor stores give testimony on a bill that would decrease their liquor licensing fees from 17% to 7%. It was clear their testimony, though on a different bill, had great affect on the bill that would give my business equal playing ground to corporate chains. Their testimony was filled with tears, the minority owner business card, and begging/pleading. Rep. Hurst repeatedly expressed his sympathies to these fellow small business owners, even walking out to the public seating area, shaking their hands.

As this progressed, I became worried for our bill.

SSB 5731 is about small business vs. corporatization.

SSB 5731 isn’t about Specialty Beer/Wine Stores vs. former state liquor stores.

But I felt like Rep. Hurst made it that way. Did he shake my hand? No. And I’m one of his constituents. I live in his district. I voted for him in the last election. But does he care about my small business? No. He’d rather bet on the failing business, of the business who just testified they cannot pay their alcohol licensing fees. He’d rather not look out for my small business, in fear that he’ll undo the sympathies he’s just expressed.

He’s either making this or disguising this as small business vs. small business rather than looking at it really is, as small business vs. corporatization. SSB 5731 is about giving small business an equal playing ground to corporations.

I can’t help but see Rep. Hurst is caught up in the drama of the small liquor stores. He is ignoring other small business. Yes, I also sympathize with these business owners, they poured their heart and soul into their businesses. The former contract store owners opened their businesses from scratch, like me. Others, however, purchased former state stores in effort to get rich. One fellow said that he paid $85K for his former state liquor store — hell, that’s a third of what we paid to build out and open our business. We’ve also worked hard and deserve a chance to make this business thrive, to have an equal selling ground against the mega liquor corps.

So I come back to 1183. What this bill did was give advantage to to big business. Now businesses like mine, like my friend Allison’s, like these small liquor shop owners, are being pushed out by Total Wine & More and other big corporate businesses. Unless the State Legislature helps us by leveling the playing field, we’re likely to go out of business as have other specialty wine shops, other small liquor stores — but we can’t. We have to make it work. We have three more years on this lease/location. This was my dream. I love craft beer. I love craft spirits. I want to share this all with the public who also appreciates these wonderful products. I want to operate this small business. I want to share my passions.

But there it is: You must be 10,000-square feet or larger to sell spirits.

Why do we still have this square footage requirement in the law? Why is MY Representative requiring this requirement to stay in place? It’s time for our legislators to pay more attention to us small business owners and less time to big corporate America and high-paid lobbyists. We need someone who respects us, works for us, and will watch our backs.

All this requirement is doing is giving advantage to mega liquor corporations, putting our neighborhood shops out of business. All we are asking for, as small businesses selling specialty beer/wine, is to have a fair playing field: The ability to sell craft spirits.

So, today I gave my first testimony ever before our State Legislators. I was so nervous! A change like this could mean life or death to my business.

The result of today’s hearing:

Representative Hurst says, “This is not Prime Time.”

So, basically he feels my livelihood is worth nothing.

He would rather continue to give advantage to big business.

He doesn’t care about local, small business.

However, the committee didn’t kill SSB 5731 entirely. The chairman simply refused to take vote on it. He doesn’t care that the Senate OVERWHELMINGLY voted in favor of this bill. He is holding it hostage and refuses to take committee vote. By doing this, he is demonstrating that he prefers to keep the playing field in advantage of mega-billion-dollar corporations.

As chairman of the committee, it is only Representative Hurst who can call for a vote. We should be dignified of a vote, even if a majority is in opposition. Let the records show the Yeas and Nays. Without a vote, there is no public record.

So, dear friends, I don’t know who else to reach out to. Can you help me make this “PRIME TIME”? The livelihoods of small business owners depend on making a fair playing ground. All we are asking for is a chance to sell craft distilled spirits, to support other small Washington businesses, to give our customers a chance to support small businesses by buying small from small.

Help us make some noise. Help us make this issue “Prime Time”—

Tell Rep. Hurst: “VOTE YES on SSB 5731. Small business is deserving of prime time!

Contact Washington State news media. Contact your State Legislators. Tell Representative Hurst to stand up for small business!

This bill is still alive. It’s just being held hostage. If Rep. Hurst doesn’t revive SSB 5731 in the interest of small businesses, this hope will die on Friday, February 28, 2014.

Representative Christopher Hurst
christopher.hurst@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7866

Feb 15

Emails supporting SSB 5731 must go out: In support of Washington Specialty Beer/Wine Stores

This Tuesday is the deadline for bills to get through the Senate, so we must act fast. Please send the two emails below by Sunday, FEBRUARY 16th (Monday at the latest).

Once a bill passes out of the Rules Committee, it goes to the Floor Leader (Senator Joe Fain) who will decide which bills the Senate will vote on. It’s crucial that we contact Senator Fain to get our bill scheduled.

Get as many people as you can to email — friends, family, customers, employees, etc.

Email to Senator Joe Fain — ASAP

To: joe.fain@leg.wa.gov
Subject: Please put SSB 5731 on the calendar
Text: Dear, Senator Fain. Thank you for co-sponsoring SSB 5731. I shop at small beer/wine specialty shops, and fully support this bill. I would be grateful for your continued support by placing 5731 on the calendar. [YOUR PERSONAL MESSAGE]. Sincerely, [YOUR NAME, BUSINESS NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE]

Note: You can also call Senator Fain at 360-786-7692.

Email to send to the Senate — ASAP

To: jan.angel@leg.wa.gov, barbara.bailey@leg.wa.gov, michael.baumgartner@leg.wa.gov, , randi.becker@leg.wa.gov, don.benton@leg.wa.gov, andy.billig@leg.wa.gov, john.braun@leg.wa.gov, sharon.brown@leg.wa.gov, maralyn.chase@leg.wa.gov, annette.cleveland@leg.wa.gov, steve.conway@leg.wa.gov, bruce.dammeier@leg.wa.gov,brian.dansel@leg.wa.gov, j.darneille@leg.wa.gov, tracey.eide@leg.wa.gov, doug.ericksen@leg.wa.gov, karen.fraser@leg.wa.gov, david.frockt@leg.wa.gov, jim.hargrove@leg.wa.gov, bob.hasegawa@leg.wa.gov, brian.hatfield@leg.wa.gov, mike.hewitt@leg.wa.gov, andy.hill@leg.wa.gov,steve.hobbs@leg.wa.gov, janea.holmquistnewbry@leg.wa.gov, jimhoneyford@leg.wa.gov, curtis.king@leg.wa.gov, adam.kline@leg.wa.gov, jeanne.kohn-welles@leg.wa.gov, marko.liias@leg.wa.gov, steve.litzow@leg.wa.gov,rosemary.mcauliffe@leg.wa.gov, john.mccoy@leg.wa.gov, mark.mullet@leg.wa.gov, sharon.nelson@leg.wa.gov, steve.o’ban@leg.wa.gov, mike.padden@leg.wa.gov, linda.parlette@leg.wa.gov, kirk.pearson@leg.wa.gov, jamie.pedersen@leg.wa.gov, kevin.ranker@leg.wa.gov, ann.rivers@leg.wa.gov, pam.roach@leg.wa.gov,christine.rolfes@leg.wa.gov, mark.schoesler@leg.wa.gov,
Cc: karen.keiser@leg.wa.gov
Subject: In support of SSB 5731

Text: Dear, Senators. I shop at small beer/wine specialty shops, and I fully support SSB 5731, the bill allowing beer/wine specialty shops to sell spirits made by small distilleries. I would be grateful for your support by voting for 5731. [YOUR PERSONAL MESSAGE]. Sincerely, [YOUR NAME, BUSINESS NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE]


Washington State Seal

SSB 5731 would allow Specialty Wine/Beer Stores to sell craft distilled spirits.

Background: A beer and/or wine specialty shop license permits a vendor to sell beer and wine at retail in original containers for consumption off premises. The annual license fee is $100 per store. Specialty shop licensees may conduct sampling, and if they meet certain conditions can sell beer to a purchaser who brings their own container.

With the passage of I-1183 in November 2011, the sale of liquor has become privatized. Retailers with 10,000 square feet of retail space, former liquor stores, or contract liquor stores can obtain a spirits retail license. Retail businesses having less than 10,000 square feet of retail space can obtain a spirits retail license from the Liquor Control Board (LCB) if they are otherwise qualified, if there is not a licensed spirits retailer within the trade area, if the applicant meets operational requirements established by LCB, and if the license applicant has no more than one public safety violation within the preceding three years.

Spirits retail licensees pay an annual license renewal fee of $166 and a license issuance fee of 17 percent of all spirits sale revenue under the license exclusive of taxes. Craft distilleries are exempt from payment of the 17 percent license issuance fee.

Article II, section 41 of the Washington State Constitution provides that an initiative passed by the people may not be amended within the first two years following enactment, except by a two-thirds vote of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Summary of Bill (Recommended Substitute): Specialty shop licensees that received their license before January 1, 2013, are under 10,000 square feet, exceed 50 percent liquor sales, and carry a minimum of $5,000 in beer or wine inventory can get an endorsement to sell spirits from a craft distiller or a distillery that produces 60,000 gallons or less of spirits per year. A specialty shop licensee with a craft spirits endorsement will pay a license issuance fee of 17 percent of all spirit sales revenue excluding taxes. The specialty shop licensee must provide training for servers. Server training is presumed to be sufficient if it incorporates a responsible vendor program adopted by LCB. Maximum penalties for public safety violations are doubled for sale of spirits by beer and/or wine specialty shop licensees who hold a craft spirits endorsement. This act is effective December 9, 2013.

EFFECT OF CHANGES MADE BY COMMERCE & LABOR COMMITTEE
(Recommended Substitute):
In addition to selling spirits from licensed craft distillers, this endorsement permits a beer and wine specialty shop to sell spirits from licensed distillers that produce 60,000 gallons or less of spirits per year.


Summary of Public Testimony

PRO:
Persons testifying: Senator Keiser, prime sponsor; Karen Rogers, Michael Cawdry, Beer and Wine Specialty Shops; Steven Lynn, Water to Wine, Morso.

  • Smaller stores are struggling in this economy.
  • Some smaller businesses have gone out of business.
  • This is a convenience for customers.
  • The regulations developed have devalued the specialty retail license.


CON:

Persons testifying: Jas Sangha, Darren Smith, Tumwater Liquor and Wine; David Cho, Westgate Liquor; Seth Dawson, WA Assn. for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention.

  • This bill will harm the small businesses.
  • Some of our members have gone bankrupt.
  • This undermines the initiative.
  • Underage drinking is on the rise because of increased access through more retail sellers and thefts.

Jan 24

Growing into Washington’s beer culture

1970s Olympia Beer CanBeing born in the late 1960s, most of my memories begin in the 70s. My grandparents were in the grocery business, which meant my father and his two brothers also worked in the family business, and us kids also worked in or around it. So I grew up around the local food culture from the viewpoint of an observer in seeing what people would buy, and what came home in the form of samples from wholesalers. I always loved the store and hoped to someday be a bigger part of it.

My parents had a small bit of acreage, so we grew up doing family projects like planting a garden, raising chickens for eggs, raising a few cattle and later riding horses. My first recollection of trying beer was in this outdoor setting.

Dad had just finished repairing the chicken pen—again. The cows, for some reason, would stick their head through the chicken wire into the pen. I suppose it was to get to the chicken food, which looked tastier than the grass on their side of the fence. After all, what cow wouldn’t prefer grain to grass?

Dad had beads of sweat on his forehead and was enjoying a little refreshment from a can…Olympia beer. He’d set it on top of the fencepost and returned to repairing the tear in the chicken wire. Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 29

You’re supposed to carry liquor…

This just happened on the phone…

“Hello, this is Tiffany at 99 Bottles. How may I help you?”

Lady, “Hello. Do you carry liquor?”

“No, ma’am, we carry beer.”

Lady, “Are you sure you don’t carry liquor?”

“Just beer products; we’re a specialty beer store.”

Lady, “Well, I’m calling you because you are supposed to carry liquor.”

“Sorry, ma’am, no liquor, just plenty of beer.”

Lady, “Huff!”

Oct 31

Operating in the face of adversity

I thought last year was rough. Here I am about ready to start the month of November 2013, and I feel completely battered, exhausted, alone. A lot’s happened this year, much of which I’ll save for future blog topics. Those of you who are friends with me on facebook have an idea of some of the challenges. Simply stated, I’ve made a lot of mistakes due to inexperience, despair, frustration.

My dad always said that retail was a rough business. He grew up in a family that owned and operated a grocery store that experienced growth to several locations throughout his life, and closure before he reached the age of retirement. Despite this, he always had strong support from family and long-time friends. (Something I lack.)

His grandfather first opened a retail store in 1917. His father knew only this occupation, my father and his brothers later taking over the business, doing what they could to keep up with the changing formats. They operated the first grocery store in Snohomish, Washington, that brought in checkers and single lane checkout. The first shop in town to open a meat market within the store, where cutters would make the cuts and package the meat individually. They were innovators within a town that I would know as home. (I admire the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father. I strive to be like this.)

In later years, big box chains came in, with the ability to undercut on prices. Things didn’t go as well. Despite doing all we could to compete, it wasn’t in the cards. The people chose the chains over the family business. (This is something I now fear for my own business.)

Weeks ago, my dad and I sat and visited. Looking at pictures from 1917 to the present, of the family business. Talking about the challenges of running a retail store that relies on you doing things right, but ultimately on entirely on everyone else: Without customer support, there is no business.

Today, I find myself sharing my stories with him. The struggles of running a business when there are days that it feels the universe is working against me. I keep swimming, swimming, swimming, yet it feels like the current is pushing me further out, despite my efforts. I struggle. I am tired. I am making serious mistakes. I am pissing people off. There are people saying they won’t shop with me anymore because of a contest. A contest that I wanted to win in order to get a TV appearance on Evening Magazine for my small business. They didn’t like that I followed the rules by “campaigning” for votes.

I followed the rules. I marketed, I promoted. But a convenience in-and-out beer store to compete against a sit-down beer bar, that meant pulling out every possible promotion yet to remain within the rules. Did we win? No. The beer bar took the win, got the TV spot. Did they need the promotion opportunity? No.

I accept that my marketing efforts fell short, despite giving it my all. I never expected the half dozen people giving me such verbal and written backlash about my campaign efforts, “Bribery!” “Un-American!” “No integrity!” These accusations, tearing at my soul. All I was looking for was a way to promote my business in the face of adversity. And apparently all I have done is brought greater adversity upon my small business. I am at a loss. The prize? A television spot that’s a sure-fire way to draw in new customers. The promotion? Backfire. People angered that I would reward my customers for voting. They didn’t care that CityVoter’s contests are “campaign-driven” they wanted the winning business to win solely on merit. Some spoke out so violently against my campaign. They’ll be happy: We didn’t win.

So I’m back to the drawing board on how to attract new customers to craft beer, on a meager budget. Only now I have a few more people pissed off at me. It seems that so much of what I’ve tried this year has been a physical-mental drain on myself, with little positive result. I am truly operating in the face of adversity.

Customers = Business

So I sit here, looking at articles online, perusing books at the library and in the book store, talking with others who own or who have owned small businesses. I pose the question, “How do you attract and retain customers, when corporate chains are edging in?”

In store: I assist. I do my best to look out for each and every customer who shops at my store. I put in everything I’ve got. I wear many hats: Customer Service, Office Manager, Accountant, Marketing, etc. (Anyone who’s owned a small business knows that every role falls onto your shoulders.) Despite giving it my all, the criticisms still come. I find myself in tears.

The stress of the future impending opening of a corporate chain, a multi-billion-dollar wine-liquor-beer store that’s coming to the city my small business is in.

I try to identify ways to market a small specialty beer store against $3.2 Billion mega liquor chain.

What do the people want to hear?

What do people want?

Customer Service.
Craft Beer.
Convenience.
Good Prices.

Quality.

Customer Service

My system for customer service goes like this: Treat others how you’d like to be treated. Greet each person with a hello. If they appear to need assistance, offer it. Be available, but not pushy. Treat your customers as guests.

When I’m shopping I prefer to shop on my own, with little sales interference, but to have competent sales folk accessible if I need assistance. I absolutely abhor pushy sales tactics. I don’t mind speaking up to ask a salesperson for help.

There are many people who don’t shop like me. Many want their hand held throughout the entire shopping process. There are many days that I do this. Often the person I am helping turns up their nose at everything I suggest, only to select a bottle because of its “pretty label” despite having a beer that they’ll likely drain-pour because it’s not like any flavors they’ve said they enjoy. These are times where you have to let go. Sure, it’s frustrating to walk someone around for twenty minutes to have them buy nothing you recommended for their personal preferences… but you have to let it go.

Something else I’ve learned in running a retail business is that there are a lot of people who don’t know what they like. This can be a challenge. What type of beer do you normally drink? “I don’t know.” Is it because they’re embarrassed to say, “Budweiser”? Or, do they truly have no idea of what they put into their body? I try to pull them out and engage, “What type of beverage, non-beer, do you normally drink?” If it’s coffee, soda, juice, milk, or something else, likely I can identify a beer that’ll be to their liking. Sometimes they’ll go for a little mix pack so they can try a few different styles to see what beer’s to their liking.

(I see several folks at various holidays and birthdays throughout the year, asking me to select beers for their loved ones. I love this aspect of my job. What I love even more: Seeing their loved ones return because I did a good job!)

I love working with people who seek out new flavors, new-to-them beers. I enjoy hearing their stories, upon return, as to what they liked or didn’t like. I am merely a guide, a helpful director, on their adventure into craft beer. I love this.

The adversity? I receive email about a bad customer service experience or see one posted online. Sometimes I remember the customer and am really surprised to see the poor review: Our interaction in store not out-of-the-ordinary. Oft times they were greeted, offered assistance and declined. As a result, I have learned not to trust poor online reviews.

This is where I am at a loss.

Because my business didn’t meet their expectation, it is given a bad review. Yet they do not state what their expectation was. The one that sticks out most in my mind from this year simply said, “Worst owners ever!” I had waited on the gentleman several times throughout the years and never had a clue that he was viewing me so terribly. In fact, I thought all our interactions were pleasant. Serving customers daily can be working in adverse condition. A friend recently said, “Everyone in the world should be mandated to work retail for two years of their life. It will give them insight on how to treat others, and how to be forgiving.” She has a point.

I feel broken.

The customer who is there with her friends, to whom I’m serving samples, looks at me with a slight scowl and says, “We don’t like you.” Yes, she really said that. Not once, but three times. Months later she and her friend start showing up at my weekly outlet: Zumba class. I stop attending. I am sensitive. All that cycles through my brain, “We don’t like you. We don’t like you. We don’t like you.” What have I done to this lady? I have served her samples, told her about the beers. But my personality, a bit introvert, shy, a wallflower, a bit socially awkward. I’m not jovial like the friend who used to pour for me. But times have changed and I can’t afford to hire in a jovial person to pour beer for a tasting event on which I’m barely hitting break-even.

The customer who comes in, who used to stop in every two to three weeks, yet I hadn’t seen him in nearly three months. He says, “I’ve been shopping at Total Wine & More. They do something that you should do: They group their beers by style. I only like drinking Porters, so I can go and get what I want quickly. If you reorganize your store I will shop here again.” I explain to him why we’ve chosen to organize the store by region and brewery. I point out the red dots on the price tags that will provide him with quick way to identify the porters and stouts in the shop. He doesn’t care. He wants me to rearrange my entire shop to meet his wants. He, like me, doesn’t want to talk to sales people when he’s shopping. He just wants to get in-and-out. He wants greater convenience.

I strongly feel our shop is about exploration, not as much convenience. But convenience sells, apparently. However we still have that parking issue when it comes to convenience. *sigh*

Craft Beer

That I have, and plenty of it. Last count was two weeks ago. At that time there were 1246 different beers (excluding duplicate beers in different packaging), 139 hard ciders, and 24 meads. That’s not counting the additional vintage beers that are in the cellar, it’s solely what’s currently available for customers to purchase. Today when I go to work there will be even more new beer, plus seasonals. Likely there’s closer to 1300 beers in stock at this very moment.

Convenience

What is convenient for one person, is not convenient for another. This is clear in the proposal by the customer that we should rearrange the entire store to meet his needs. What did he think about our reasoning for arranging it by region and brewery? For him, he wasn’t so interested in going outside of Porters. From my experience, people who like Porters are likely to venture into similar styles. They are more apt to do this if the beers are grouped by brewery. They say, “I really liked this porter. I see this brewery has other malt-forward styles: Scotch, Brown, Stout, Old Ale, Dubbel, Quad. I will try them as well.” It opens up a whole new world of flavor experience to the beer drinker, you get to see their eyes brighten and their excitement for craft beer grow, as they start a personal tasting adventure. It’s really exciting to see, to be a part of their journey.

If I were to reorganize my entire store to be classified by style, this would be lost.

His response? “Put up signs in the porter section to say, ‘If you like Porters, check out our Scotch, Brown, Stout, Old Ale, Dubbel, and Quad sections.’” Funny, this coming from a person who never read the signs in store that indicate all he had to do was look for the red dots on the price tags to quickly identify the Porters. Most people don’t read.

Parking in our center isn’t always ideal. We are next to three eating establishments, so lunch and dinner time means driving around a little to get a nearby parking spot. But there is nearly always parking on the side of Sportsmans, straight down the sidewalk. I always make sure the people who complain to me about the parking situation are aware of this. I worry about the inability to park in a front-row spot driving customers away.

Kegs are advance order, as are most cases. Because we have a small location — 1245-square feet that includes backstock and cellar storage, cooler, and a tiny office. That’s not a lot of room to store beer. Likely a good thing: Seldom does beer expire or “go bad” under my care. Most of our beers come in one case at a time; this is how we can have over 1200 beers in just over 1200 square feet. However, this means customers need to plan ahead if they’re getting cases and kegs for their parties from my beer store. You’d be surprised how many people throw last-minute parties… or just don’t plan ahead. Placing an order Tuesday morning for Friday evening pickup is too long of advance timeframe for many. They snip at me. I take a deep breath, I say my mantra, “Let their anger roll off me like beads of water off the back of a duck.”

“I want to drink while I shop.” This is a challenge, per se. I never intended to open a tavern. The general consumer doesn’t understand that one “bottle shop” is licensed as a “tavern” while another is licensed as a “specialty beer store.” The latter, pure retail and allows all ages to enter (they can bring their kids along when shopping at my store). The former, a bar that is also credentialed by the State Liquor Board to sell to-go. Though both are “bottle shops” they are two entirely different beasts when it comes to operational model, licensing, health board, operating margins, insurance, etc. It’s like comparing apples to oranges — both are fruits, but they taste very different. You may prefer one over the other, but that doesn’t mean the other is “bad.” Yes, I’ve had people tell me my store is “bad” because we don’t serve, because it’s not a tavern.

…I listen to my customers. Instead of just one night a week for beer tasting, we now offer tasting every day, 58 hours a week. That’s a lot of time to drink beer while they shop. (However, as a retail store I can only serve them 10 ounces maximum daily, in 2-ounce sample pours.) About 20-30 people take advantage of this each week. What surprises me most is that the people who were loudest in complaining about not being able to drink while they shop are the majority of those who don’t participate. Complaining about lack of service/product doesn’t mean they want the service/product. This is something I have a hard time grasping as a retail shopkeeper. If I ask for something, it’s because I want it. If the business changes to offer it, I’ll use the service/product. People confuse me.

Good Prices

This is an area that I do pretty good at. The prices at my beer store average nearly a dollar less on many large-format 25.4-oz bottles than other small business competitors who are 20-30 minutes away.

As for competing with the $3.2 Billion dollar chains, yes, there are things that they can under price me on. I cannot operate a small business on 10% margins. In order to operate on that, I’d need to sell three to four times the volume that I sell now in order to pay rent, excise taxes, employees, product, and other operating expenses. And that’s just to hit break-even, not profits to stick away in the bank for slow times or the unexpected (equipment failure, health issues). It’s simply not feasible.

This is where operating a small business is tough to compete with big business.

This is where you see a lot of small businesses put up the “going out of business sale” signs when the big business comes into their region. This is why I worry when the mega-liquor chain has announced that they’ll be opening twenty blocks from my store. A chain store can afford to take losses at one location, allowing other locations to sustain it, while they work on edging out any competition in their region. This is where I ask: How can I maintain my existing customers and attract new ones? Though we have some “equal playing ground” most marketing and business seems to be pointing to the advantage of the large chain.

Quality

I’d think quality would be a bigger priority of shoppers, but it isn’t. We live in a day of disposable furniture, clothes that aren’t expected to last. Despite the fact that food tastes better fresher, most eat assembled fast food (I’m included) full of chemicals that preserve. Most of us don’t shop for “quality.”

I see more grocery stores edging into craft beer. I regularly check out bottling dates, storage conditions. Most are stored under florescent lights, some are past date. I’ve seen some as old as two years. Serious. As a steward of craft beer at a specialty shop, this infuriates me. Someone is going to buy this and say, “I tried craft beer it was terrible” or “I don’t like that style” because of this bad experience with bad beer.

Monday was my first venture into one of the large chain liquor stores. I’ve been avoiding going in them since they appeared in Washington State last year, because I expected it to be a major downer. How can I as a small business compete with this? I don’t have deep marketing pockets. I can’t financially compete with 10% markups. What I saw wasn’t so scary as I’d built it up in my head, in my heart. What I saw: Late spring and early summer beers that should’ve been closed out and put on sale months ago. Prices that were, overall, competitive to mine. A cooler filled with mostly mass-produced fizzy yellow beer, with the majority of craft beer living on the ambient shelving — even those with lower alcohol volumes that should likely be in the cooler. I’m still nervous about the big chain opening nearby, but I have a better idea what to expect. They advertise at over 1200 beers, but in fact, is it over 1200 SKUs. SKUs are different packaging, not different beers — it is misleading to the consumer. But the overwhelming majority of people believe what they’re told or what they read, without fact checking.

I’m a fact checker; I’m a rule follower. I’m an odd man.

Since the privatization of liquor in Washington State, more than 50% of the small liquor shops have gone out of business. In effort to stay afloat, the majority of the remaining shops have converted into C-stores (convenience stores) by adding the following to their liquor offerings: chips, wine, craft beer, growler fills. Many don’t maintain clean draft systems. I’ve had regular customers who I’ve not seen in months return to tell me, “I’m getting growler fills at (former state liquor store) but it tastes a little funny.” Yet, due to convenience (proximity to their home or work), they continue to give money for off-bad beer. I don’t get it, but it happens.

People sacrifice quality for price and convenience.

How does one compete with that?

Customer service. Maybe. But everyone’s idea of good service, each person’s expectation of good service, is different.

I think about my dad’s business. In the end, was there anything that could have been done different to better position the store to better compete against the corporate chains? I worry for my own business. I ponder the adversity, the things we have operating against us. I think about rising operating costs and how to remain competitive despite the naysayers, the people who say “I want to put you out of business” and “I don’t like you.”

I worry about my own inexperience. My own personal shortcomings with customers, with staff, with my partner. I worry because I am feeling burned out and overly criticized.

Yet all I want to do is get people into delicious craft beer, to help them on their personal adventure. To run a viable business that’s able to support itself and its staff.

So much adversity to deal with, and all I want is to share this wonderful thing: Craft Beer.

Sep 19

Why I attended the first Beer Bloggers Conference

And the challenges of running a family-operated specialty beer store

Beer Bloggers Conference Announcement - 1st conferenceI first heard about the Beer Bloggers Conference in June 2010.

I’ve been working in the beer industry since 2007. Not as a blogger, but as a beer store shopkeeper. That’s when my family opened a beer store in Federal Way, Washington. My job here is multi-layered. It includes office – staff – inventory management, cleaning, stocking, sales and marketing. That includes writing all publicity, newsletters, social media, customer education, and product information for the store. Was I a blogger?

I am a beer blogger of sorts, yes, I suppose.

Would I fit in with these bloggers? People whose posts I’ve been reading for years, whose podcasts I periodically listen in on, who have no fear in writing about beer. Does writing for my store’s customers qualify? It does. Will the conference help me better understand my audience? Will it help me find my voice? Will it build up my confidence that’s been waning? Will there be understanding, mutual passion for both beer and writing? Oh, I hoped so!

The conference appealed to me for several reasons.

A community of writers

Oh how I missed my writing community. My job(s) before the store all had aspects of writing. I’ve been writing professionally since the early 90s. It started with assisting scientific staff with publications and writing business correspondence, moved into a technical writing apprenticeship that meant assisting with presentations and brochures and authoring and illustrating training, laboratory, and service documentation. By 1993 I was working freelance and on contract for scores of businesses around the Northwest, and a few cross-country.

I really loved my writing jobs, but I also missed what I’d grown up in: A family-centric business, a storefront, a place to call my own, where others came to buy products. Three generations of small retail ended before it could support a fourth. My desire, my passion, my drive to recreate a new family business, to sell a product I believe in.

Grandpa Al delivering groceriees, 1936 Hereth's Grocery, 1944 in Snohomish, Washington

I dreamed of having my own little shop.

My husband was on board for getting into business together. The thought of opening a retail store we could jointly run, to spend more time together sounded good. His idea: A beer store. I jumped on board. We opened the shop in January 2007.

Flash-forward, three-and-a-half years…

Have you ever worked together with your spouse for three-and-a-half years straight without a vacation?

Yep. I didn’t think so.

But if you have, you know we were both sorely in need of a break.

I really needed time away, but not time alone.

My need for peers, with shared interests

It’s true: A lot of family businesses fail. Many due to divorce. I’ve learned why. Likely he has too. We need to both get out and have social interactions apart. We each need hobbies and peers of our own.

As a contract writer I worked on a lot of diverse writing teams. The ability to collaborate, to bounce ideas off each other’s heads, to have peer editors, off-hours camaraderie of food, drinks, stories, laughter. Damn, I really miss that part of my old job…

I was seeking an oasis in the desert.The thought of a conference that ‘s bringing together beer bloggers, this may be what I need for a shot of rejuvenation.

That Beer Bloggers Conference was looking really good. The thought of it:
A mirage in my desert. Would it become my Oasis?

I’d been treading through sand for so long, I was longing for refreshment, new perspective, rejuvenation.

The need for a fresh perspective, for rejuvenation

I had to face it: I was hitting burn out. My last “family vacation” was…
…was so long ago that I have to guess-count backwards, thinking about the past to figure out the year. Was it 2002?

We don’t have the money to go away on vacations now.

The money we have is tied to this business. Our time on this earth, devoted to this business. I am fully entwined in this business. There’s no running off to have a day off together, let alone a weekend. If we’re not at the shop it’s closed. If it’s closed there’s no money flowing in. If there’s no money, there’s no business – house – staff – life. If it’s closed I’m letting down all the people who look to me for this great product: Delicious Beer. If I let them down, they stop coming to my shop. They go somewhere else. My sales drops. My operating capital shrinks. I would ultimately lose my business. My joy, my dreams would go right down the toilet.

So I struggle, I strive, I continue on this sandy path.

My goal over the years: To hire staff we can rely on. Staff I rely on, trust with the business. To be able to take a vacation, to rejuvenate, to re-establish family bonds that have taken a hit by this thing called business. To regain a personal connection. (Funny that now six-and-a-half-years in when we finally have a staff to rely on, the economy is tight and there are so many other businesses encroaching on our area of specialty—selling craft beer—that there is ZERO budget for vacation. Every penny is put back into the business: To grow the business, to sustain the business, to keep on treading.)

Even though we’re supposed to share the same goals and dreams, as a married couple and co-business owners, the times of joy seem to lessen. The times of camaraderie, of happiness, they are fleeting.

Pursuing the joy of camaraderie

It has become clear that I will have to look outside my household for this connection.

Would I get the connection, the camaraderie I sought at this Beer Bloggers Conference? The more I read about the conference, the more it peaked my interest: Writing & Beer, a perfect pairing.

To have the chance to go on a “working vacation” even though it was to a conference of strangers… (I’m not the most outgoing person. I’m an INFJ. I’m a total wallflower: An observer more than a participant.) …when that chance came up, I thought: Beer & Writing, count me in. I should fit in okay; we’ve all got two common interests. This time away should help refresh my spirit. Let me go, let me become rejuvenized.

The first Beer Bloggers Conference, 2010 in Boulder, Colorado: Friendly faces, the kindness of others, the social lubricant of beer, writing ideas discovered and confirmed, feeling different yet similar, in awe of how others have advanced and changed their part of the world through their passion for beer.

I returned just that: Refreshed, Rejuvenated.

The Beer Bloggers Conference was my “ahhh” moment, where I didn’t have to worry and fret over everything for everyone else, away from the long retail hours, away from my inability to make everyone happy. It was a place where I could just be.

Sep 12

Writer’s block. I’m FOKT! Too much OCD’ing.

There’s been so much going on, and my OCD is kicking in. What to do? How to do it right? Analysing risks. Trying to find the perfect fit. Understanding people. What do they want? How can I help them? What takes priority? Where are the links? How are things connected? Am I qualified to do my job? Can I write something worthy of readership?

This is the fourth or fifth year I’ve been asked to write a few blogposts for Fremont Oktoberfest.

…and, “I’m not doing well,” IMO.

They’ve given me free reign, but I’m not sure what to do with it.

My instinct: Boring.

My background: Contract writing. A lot of instructional manuals: How-to operate, how-to maintain, how-to service … equipment, software. services and products. Informative materials.

That is my instinct.

That is safe, unnoffensive.

Writer´s block / Selfish introspective pencilThat is also dry and boring.

I think about real-life experiences. I am the kind of person who likes to interact with many, but still remain in the background, capturing what’s going on around me. I like to take pictures — mental and with my iPhone. I’m more of a voyeur than a full-on participant; I’m comfortable being the third wheel.

Can I convey what I see into words?

What I feel? the mood? the sights and sounds? the flavors?

If I share my interpretations of the world; its/my weird behaviors; our errors and struggles; the failures and successes, will there be a moment shared? understanding? forgiveness? embarrassment? harm?

My desire: To be more clever

I like funny people. Not “contrived” or “forced” or “stupid” funny. I like a lot of naturally witty people.

I wish to be like them: To be naturally clever.

My instinct doesn’t work that way. My clever is… well, I’m not sure what it is. I know I can be good at embarrassing myself. I tend do this a few times a week. Sometimes people are witness to it. C gets mad, snippy, mean when he sees me doing/saying things that… that are “stupid.” This, about me, embarrasses him. But I can own it. Yes, I sometimes do and say stupid things. Can he handle it? Not really.

Can I share these? should I?

The inexperienced writer

Can I gather my thoughts into one succinct post? What details need to be cut? What wording to be altered? I have no editor. Am I capable of writing something decent? Can I free-fall write, without self-editing? Will it make sense? What is worthing of publishing?

Informative is safe.

I don’t know if I have the talent to write “experience.”

The point of the blog, to drive interest in the festival.

Can I do this effectively by sharing stories?

Brainstorming…

Things I love about Fremont Oktoberfest
- Ritual of attendance: Visit to Brouwer’s Cafe, then the Beer Garden
- Voyeurism: People watching, witnesing human interaction
- Dogtoberfest Sunday: I love dogs; they’re cute
- Familiarity: Seeing people I know
- Newness: Sharing a table with strangers — interacting, with a glimpse into their world
- Attire: Costumed people at a beer festival; the occassional guy in a kilt; fashion, shoes and tattoos
- Drinking beer: …

…I’ve drank a lot of different beers over the years. This year’s FOKT Beer Garden has a “newness factor” by having a few new Seattle breweries pouring. A lot of other beers I’ve had before. They’re good. Some of the beers will open people’s mind, causing them to say, “This is Beer?!” …they’ll seek out that beer post-festival, but will they know where to find it? How to find it? Is it draft only? Seasonal? Can they easily find it? I could likely write about these things, yes?? The beer selection at the festival allows me to revisit beers I’ve not had in a while — and that’s important to my job. I need to intimately know beer to sell it right. My job is to get people into beers they’ll like. I’m a craft beer pimp. Who’s reading this blog and what do they want to hear from me? What do they want to know about the festival’s beer garden?

Stupid things I’ve done at Oktoberfest
- Puked in the porta potty’s urinal (didn’t have enough water, ate too late, hint of sunstroke, and likely one too many samples)
- Dropped my cup down the porta pottyhole

…the porta potty experience. I’ve been in many beer festival porta potties, and this festival has some of the better ones. To-date they’ve been kept clean throughout the festival, most have hand sanitizer. How to not get sick and prevent a hangover. How to hold onto your cup when using the facility. …oh, there I go, back into “instructional, informative” mode. How can I make these topics fun? Am I capable of making them resonate with people? What stories do people want to hear? Where do I edit myself?

Cool things about Fremont Oktoberfest
- Chainsaw pumpkin carving (stand too close and get hit by flying pumpkin — innards in hair, on shirts-pants-shoes)
- Live bands (I don’t think I’ve ever stood in front of the stage to listen/dance, but it’s always been good festival background. Who’s playing? who are their fans?)
- Plenty of room to walk about (streetfair environment, literally on two closed-off streets where people live and businesses operate)
- Delicious beer (yep, yep! But many rare-popular choices run out on the first two days; Deschutes activities all three days.)
- Dogtoberfest Sunday (I love dogs! Too bad Earl’s not socialized enough to make it a pleasant experience for him to come along. Maybe next year, if I make the effort to better socialize him all year long? Friends are bringing their dogs this year.)

Makes me feel good about Fremont Oktoberfest
- The company of friends (last year was my first for this; previous years attended solo … with friends is so much better!!)
- Blowing off steam
- Petting cute pooches
- Sharing the Fremont Oktoberfest experience (giving away the passes I get from blogging)
- Giving away my unused tokens
- Relaxing affects of beer
- Eating greasy fair food

Personal woes
- I feel fat, what to wear? Jeans and t-shirt, comfortable shoes.
- It’s a long drive, parking can be a bitch. Park and bus in? Safety first.
- I realize loneliness (desire to share experience with C, but he doesn’t enjoy these things the way I do)

Other possible topics
- Should you take a first/second date to a beer festival?

But what of these makes a good topic?

…what would YOU read?

Sep 09

A trip to Plymouth, Mass.

Hello friends,

July was filled with good times at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Boston, Mass. Instead of joining other beer writers on the preconference excursion in Maine, I did something extra nerdy…

I drove down to Plymouth for a day of Pilgrim-touring, which included fulfilling a childhood third-grade dream of visiting Plimoth Plantation. The Plantation was everything I dreamed of, only better. The staff working in the settlement are all in character, stuck in 1627, and the tourists are encouraged to interact with them and ask questions. Children seemed to communicate the best, as many words in our modern vocabulary weren’t in use 400 years ago. We have progressed so much as a society, in terms of science, medicine, technology, and communication.

making soup

making soup

picking cucumbers

picking cucumbers

the English settlement at Plimoth Plantation

the English settlement at Plimoth Plantation

a chatty import

a chatty import

sunny flowers cure miserable dispositions

sunny flowers cure miserable dispositions

pilgrim mom & child

pilgrim mom & child

edible plants for teas & treatments

edible plants for teas & treatments

Pilgrim food: poultry & berry hot pocket, dry bread, unspiced squash, pickles

pilgrim food

For lunch, I could’ve had a burger, but I optioned for a plate of food that was “something like the pilgrims ate,” which really made me ready for a beer. It was a primitive poultry & berry hot pocket, dry bread (not a lick of butter or jam), unspiced squash (like something you’d feed a baby), and pickles. Yes, definitely ready for a beer! But not yet… Next stop: Burial Hill to check out the old graveyard. I was the only person there, and as the wind began to blow through the trees I got a little creeped out, and was even more ready for a beer…and some company.

old stones

old stones

...a dragonfly, that's who.

…a dragonfly, that’s who.

tippy gravestones & rustling trees

tippy gravestones & rustling trees

black & white makes graveyards extra creepy

black & white makes things extra creepy

Thus, a stop over at Mayflower Brewing Company. The hospitality was great! Met the brewery pup, Otto, who was a shy little guy, but brave enough to hang out under the table once the after-work crowd showed up. Picked up some of their single-hop limited IPA and a six-pack of the truly amazing Mayflower Porter. If you ever get a chance to visit the Plymouth area, be sure to seek out this beer. It’s multi-layered with roasty chocolate, coffee, and smoke notes. Really a beautiful beer.

brewery pup Otto hiding out under a table

brewery pup Otto hiding out under a table

Mayflower beers

Mayflower beers

sipping on beer at Mayflower Brewing in Plymouth, Mass.

sipping on beer at Mayflower Brewing in Plymouth, Mass.

Otto, the shy pup at Mayflower Brewing

Otto, the shy pup at Mayflower Brewing

I followed that up with a walk on the Plymouth waterfront, a peek at Plymouth Rock, and a delicious Lobster dinner at Wood’s Seafood. $18 and some change for a big juicy crustacean and french fries… score!

Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock

Wood's Seafood in Plymouth, Mass.

Wood’s Seafood in Plymouth, Mass.

lobster dinner

lobster dinner

Then back to my resting spot, the Seabreeze Inn B&B, to drink another Mayflower Porter and catch up on happenings back at the beer store, post photos of new beer arrivals for our customers, and mentally prepare for a weekend of activity.

Mayflower Porter, rated as one of the world's top porters on BeerAdvocate

Mayflower Porter, rated as one of the world’s top porters on BeerAdvocate

Seabreeze Inn B&B in Plymouth, Mass.

Seabreeze Inn B&B in Plymouth, Mass.

The next morning I awoke to light chatter and delicious breakfast smells from the dining room below. I joined two couples at the table, one from Boston area and the other from Europe, while our B&B host Jim cooked up delights in the kitchen. The food and company were equally amazing. This was my first stay at a B&B and it won’t be my last. Jim and Susan keep a great place.

Next blog… The 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference!

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