The beer is still flowing at Richmond-area craft breweries, but the coronavirus has taken a chunk out of sales as taprooms have closed for on-site beverage consumption and some breweries have had to lay off employees.
Numerous breweries and cideries in the Richmond region are trying to keep afloat by shifting to online and pick-up sales only, with some even offering delivery.
For instance, The Veil Brewing Co. on Tuesday switched to outdoor to-go sales only at its Scott’s Addition location in Richmond. The brewery also said it is set to start making deliveries within a 12-mile radius from orders placed on its website.
Triple Crossing Beer on South Foushee Street in downtown Richmond also shifted Monday to a to-go and delivery system.
Many other breweries and cideries have posted on their websites new hours for customers to stop by and pick up orders, along with ways to order online.
Center of the Universe Brewing Co. shifted on Thursday to curbside, pick-up sales of beer at its brewery and taproom at 11293 Air Park Road in Hanover County.
“We are putting a table in front of our front door and people can come pick up what they want,” said co-founder Chris Ray. “We also have online gift cards if people want to support us that way.”
The brewery is still making beer, Ray said. However, the business has had to furlough some employees.
Tips from Center of the Universe’s “to go” sales are being collected for the brewery’s customer service staff who have been let go while the coronavirus-related restrictions last.
Ray declined to comment on how many have been laid off, but “it was substantial,” he said. “It was more than half our workforce.”
On a normal, busy day such as a Saturday, Ardent Craft Ales in Scott’s Addition could get hundreds or thousands of customers in its brewery taproom at 3200 W. Leigh St.
Thanks to the coronavirus, the number of taproom visitors has now gone to zero, said Tom Sullivan, the craft brewery’s co-founder and general manager.
Ardent has responded by offering pick-up orders, and making some deliveries within a limited range in the Richmond region.
“We had to close our taproom, so we have full-time staff that are available to do this type of work,” Sullivan said. “We thought that would be a good way to keep them on staff. We did not know what to expect because it is a new and novel type of idea for Richmond.”
“I think we have been pleasantly surprised,” with delivery and pick-up orders, he said. “Basically, we are doing the same sales that we would do, under normal circumstances, on a slow day.”
The brewery has had to furlough part-time staff, though, who normally would fill shifts on weekends. Sullivan said he hopes to bring those employees back when the crisis has passed.
“Right now, we are going to keep everybody on as long as we can,” he said. “As the situation changes, we are going to make adjustments so we can come out the other side. I just don’t know what it is going to look like.”
The coronavirus outbreak forced some changes for the grand opening of Bryant’s Cider, which has opened a new location in 2114 E. Main St. in Shockoe Bottom.
Instead, the craft cider maker marked its opening with a “curbside pick-up” on Friday evening where customers bought cider but not congregate at the new location. The curbside orders will continue at the same time on Fridays and Saturdays and on Sundays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“We have a ton of cider ready to go,” marketing manager Vanessa Gleiser said. “Our business could really use all the support we can get right now to help the five employees who work at Bryant’s,” including founder Jerry Thornton and his daughter.
“Every sale is super impactful for small businesses,” Gleiser said. “By buying a bottle of cider you really do help someone pay his or her bills. Without sales we can’t be paid and that’s really scary.”
Center of the Universe’s Ray said eight people are currently still working at the brewery.
“Fortunately, for us, we still supply grocery stores and off-premise sites, but that is all of our business currently,” he said. “Overall, we are seeing a 70 percent cut in revenue.”
Asked how long the brewery can sustain itself, Ray said, ‘We have got about 90 days if everything stays as it is.”
“We are anticipating more layoffs across other industries if this goes on longer,” he said. “If people see diminishing pay, they are going to have to make some hard decisions. Are they going to go for the more expensive craft beer?”
Richbrau Brewing in Shockoe Bottom has been limiting its customers to no more than 10 in its taproom at a time. It is also offering drive-up orders and working on setting up a delivery option within a day or two.
“We’re making the best of a bad situation,” said co-owner Matthew Mullett. He said sales so far have not dropped off as much as he feared. “People have really stepped up.”
Sullivan with Ardent Craft Ales said local, state and federal governments can help by offering whatever relief is possible for small businesses such as low-interest loans, and tax relief from excise taxes on breweries.
On its Facebook page, Center of the Universe has a simple message: “We could all use a beer. Thank you for your support during this time.”