Nevada Interrupted: Reno brewery channels frustration into generosity for first responders
The Nevada Independent
RENO, Nev. — Prior to the shutdown of Nevada’s non-essential businesses, including craft breweries, IMBIB Custom Brews in Reno had a “beer hotline” people could call to have beer ready for them to pick up when they arrived.
Co-owner Matt Johnson said he and his staff were sanitizing the outside of the bottles after they filled them, and providing customers with a pay-over-the-phone option and sanitary product pickup service.
Now that even that service has been ruled out, Johnson said he is worried about his workers because he has had to cut hours and wages.
“We do think the governor made the right call and we completely support trying to keep everybody safe, but we also believe that there are creative solutions to making sure people get the resources they need,” Johnson said. “The thing that the governor allowed us to do was to keep making beer and to keep selling it to distributors. However, nobody’s buying beer, because they can’t sell it.”
He said that the brewery is banking on Small Business Administration loans to survive right now, but he is unsure of when the money from the loan application will arrive.
“We’re looking at what bills do we have to pay and how long can we last without any cash coming in,” Johnson said. “We’re looking at maybe a month of cash on hand, to get us through, so we’re going to have to come up with something by the end of April.”
Johnson floated the idea of a universal basic income — a policy popularized by former presidential candidate Andrew Yang that involves the government giving a flat payment of, say, $1,000 a month to every American adult — and noted that he hopes lawmakers are figuring out how to help those most affected by the virus.
“I think there are ways to identify the industries and the people that are going to be most hurt and to get them money as quickly as possible,” he said. “I really think getting the money to the people as soon as possible who desperately need it is going to be the most effective way.”
One worry that Johnson has is affording rent. IMBIB has two properties, and he said his landlords have reacted differently to the economic effects of COVID-19.
“One of our landlords reached out to us and offered to allow us to pay at the end of the year instead of right now, which was very generous,” he said. “And then on the opposite spectrum, our other landlord has actually denied our request to defer rent and basically said, ‘Hey, the president has a plan. Go ahead, pay your rent this month.’”
Johnson said the letter refusing to defer rent came before Gov. Steve Sisolak’s notice about suspending evictions, and so he plans to contact his landlord who lives in California soon to discuss options.
“We initially had intended to fight back [against the total shutdown] as an industry along with other breweries and wineries and distilleries,” he said. “However, after pondering it over the weekend, we just really felt like this is not a fight that we need to wage right now, given the seriousness of this crisis.”
Despite his fears about the effects of COVID-19 on his business, Johnson said that he channeled his energy into planning a beer giveaway on April 3 for first responders and those on the front lines. He said there was a line of cars around the block.
“We don’t have money, but we had a whole bunch of beer,” he said. “I didn’t know how it was going to go … but people were so generous with their donations that it was a great kind of reciprocal exchange where the folks on the front line felt valued, but they also donated heavily, which made our employees feel valued.”
To maintain safety standards, the brewery gave pre-packaged beers to people who drove up and maintained distancing and sanitation standards recommended by the CDC and FDA. Johnson said the only downside of the event was that they ran out of beer in 45 minutes.
The brewery plans to try it again this coming April 10 — and get other breweries and wineries involved.
“The demand was quadruple what we could supply, basically, so it was cool because we got to honor people, it was disappointing just that we couldn’t give away beer,” he said with a laugh.
EDITOR’S NOTE: NEVADA INTERRUPTED SERIES
“Nevada Interrupted” is an ongoing series of stories launched March 23 by The Nevada Independent that features interviews with businesses and workers about how they are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic’s realities.
Read more about impacts to Northern Nevada businesses in the Nevada Interrupted series:
The Nevada Independent is a 501(c)3 nonprofit news organization. The following people or entities mentioned in this article are financial supporters: IMBIB Custom Brews – $157.79; and Steve Sisolak – $3,200.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.