Macalester graduate Chris Farley opened the original Northern Brewer store in a small St. Paul storefront in 1993. A few moves, a Roseville warehouse and a Milwaukee store later, and he's finally bringing a homebrew resource and equipment center to the Southwest Metro.
His latest retail outlet is set to open at 6021 South Lyndale Ave. by late October at a site across the street from the garden center in Southwest's Windom neighborhood.
Northern Brewer chose the location for many reasons. Chief Operating Officer Jake Keeler explained that the building was up for sale, so they could purchase the place outright. Also, the site is geographically desirable, as it's positioned near both 35W and the Crosstown Highway and not too close to any similar stores.
"Customer requests over the last 18 years, as long as we've been here, have been to open a store in the West Metro," said Keeler, adding that, "It's about 12 or so miles from our St. Paul location and about 12 or so miles from our competitor's."
Midwest Supplies, who also trucks in the homebrew business, is in St. Louis Park.
"The larger space will allow Northern Brewer to have a bigger in-store selection of products. It will also better serve the southern suburbs, an area that is not currently being served by any of the stores in town," local beer expert Michael Agnew informed Patch.
Agnew, owner of A Perfect Pint and a certified Cicerone — the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier — thinks the current boom in homebrew enthusiasts in the Twin Cities can definitely support another supply store.
The former home of clothing company , the store's 6.000 square feet will be three times larger than the St. Paul location. Local construction outfits are presently vying for the chance to do extensive renovations to the building.
"This location is going to be different in that it will have a very large classroom that will be conducting classes from beginner to expert in beer, wine, sake and all fermentables," said Keeler. "I think the retail experience is going to be more — I hesitate to say premium, but it's definitely going to be much, much nicer."
Northern Brewer is working with a retail consultant and architects Studio M to create a user-friendly store that is as much about selling people on the experience as the supplies — whether they are making beer, wine, cider, vinegar or more exotic drinks like Somali tej and Eritrean suwa. They will stock books, DVD's and other resources as well as the usual equipment and ingredients.
Michael Cote, Vice President of the Minnesota Home Brewers Association thinks their plan makes sense. "One of the ways you are going to get people to buy is to educate them about how to use the equipment," he said.
Cote is looking forward to seeing Northern Brewer open in Minneapolis. Of course, it's much closer for him personally, but Cote says he also understands that while most of their sales are done online, the face-to-face contact is still very important.
"More of Northern Brewer's sales are done by mail, but now they are going to teach you what you can't be taught online. It's a much different experience," Cote pointed out.
The Minneapolis shop will have plenty of off-street parking and will likely hire 10 employees.
Despite their expansion plans, Keeler promises they'll engage the local community, much as they've done in St. Paul: having shindigs at local bars, classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill and more.
"We usually donate quite a bit to local charities and local events. But now we actually have a location that might serve as a place to conduct events for those charities," Keeler said.
Northern Brewer will also continue to do their most popular events — brewing demonstrations — but come fall they will be able to host them at their brand new Minneapolis digs.