Photo: Bike Rack Brewing Co.
Small businesses across the country are suffering due to the rapid onset of the COVID-19 virus and the resulting drop in consumer traffic. Instead of spending their money on goods and services, people are staying home and hoping to ride out the storm in good health.
This new reality is impacting the brewing industry here in Northwest Arkansas. Many local breweries saw their taproom traffic drop significantly over the past week, with most choosing to end on-site consumption and move to carryout service in the last few days.
Others have been trying to alleviate concerns by closely following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, including extra cleaning and reduced seating to slow transmission of the virus. Even with these measures, each passing day has seen another local brewery closing their taproom.
It is a troubling time for area brewers. Most depend on direct-to-consumer sales to keep their businesses solvent.
Columbus House Brewery’s Carey Ashworth says the support from customers has been good given the circumstances. Many are purchasing four-packs to go, or they’re having a quick pint before heading out the door. But the situation is changing rapidly, and every day brings a new set of challenges.
Despite the uncertainty, Ashworth’s focus is clear.
“Our main concerns ebb and flow daily and hourly,” she says. “But right now, we are most concerned with making sure we can continue to pay our employees.”
Yesterday Governor Asa Hutchinson closed all bars and restaurants for onsite consumption, effectively ending taproom traffic for the foreseeable future.
But in a surprise move, he also issued emergency rules allowing distilleries, small breweries, and small farm wineries to deliver their products directly to consumers.
Restaurants and microbrewery restaurants (otherwise known as brewpubs) currently licensed to sell beer and wine can deliver those beverages along with food orders.
Also, retail liquor stores can offer curbside pickup and make deliveries to consumers.
The governor’s rules will remain in effect for 30 days.
As of Friday morning, several local breweries had indicated their intent to start making beer deliveries. They include Columbus House, Fossil Cove, Natural State, and New Province. Bike Rack and Hawk Moth have partnered to offer beer deliveries as well.
Fayetteville’s Crisis Brewing Co. is also considering a delivery service, having gauged interest via social media late Thursday night.
The other breweries in Northwest Arkansas have yet to decide on deliveries, but most are offering to-go or curbside service in the meantime. Some are taking orders via email, while others are allowing for walkup orders. Check with each brewery for the most up-to-date protocols for pickup.
The governor’s move will help in the near-term, but the long-term impact of the virus and the damage to the local economy could have a lasting effect.
Ashworth opened Columbus House in Fayetteville five years ago this April. She is concerned about the future of the local beer industry, but is at the same time hopeful.
“I worry that once this is all said and done, it’s going to be a long recovery process and people might not have extra cash to spend on going out,” she says. “We are taking it one day at a time, and hopefully in these uncertain and scary times our beer can provide a little normalcy and relief.”
And thankfully, for the next 30 days, local beer can be delivered to your front door.