Beer industry feels impact of COVID-19 measures

Beer industry feels impact of COVID-19 measures

Sean Lopolito, owner of Lops Brewing in Woonsocket, fills growlers for customers last Friday, March 20. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

PAWTUCKET – Local beer makers, which rely heavily on foot traffic and sit-down enjoyment of their products, have been hit especially hard with the impacts of the new coronavirus.

Nick Garrison, of Foolproof Brewing off Mineral Spring Avenue, had perhaps the most to lose from the pandemic, as his planned sale of the company is now indefinitely on hold as profits have plunged.

According to Garrison, on-premise sales of beer declined precipitously, causing 70 to 80 percent of sales to disappear immediately. Sales to wholesalers and restaurants slowed or stopped, he said, leading to most staff now being out of work and the ones working barely having enough to put food on the table.

“It’s devastating, it’s heartbreaking,” he said of the collapse of the hospitality industry.

It wasn’t all bad news for the breweries over the past week. Garrison and others lobbied heavily for Gov. Gina Raimondo to allow limited sales of beer and wine with takeout orders at Rhode Island restaurants, and she agreed with an executive order last week.

Garrison was getting creative on social media this week as he promoted takeout beer sales and even posted a pair of handcrafted Adirondack chairs made out of whiskey barrels for $499 apiece. With beer sales allowed with takeout orders, he was also offering a third chair to the Rhode Island liquor store that sells the most Foolproof beer in March and April.

Other breweries in Pawtucket’s recently blossoming craft beer scene were also trying to offset losses from sit-down clientele by promoting take-home beer sales during limited hours.

Up the road in North Providence, Providence Brewing Company owner Efren Hidalgo was offering canned beers for off-premise consumption only during limited hours, telling customers that the company was following safety protocols in wearing latex gloves and wiping down stations between orders.

In a post, he told customers that one way they could help brick and mortar businesses during this challenging time is to buy gift cards to be used at a later date or given as gifts.

Sean Lopolito, owner of Lops Brewing in Woonsocket, said that prior to last week, 95 percent of his sales were from the tasting room. With the tasting room now closed amid the coronavirus measures, he’s shifted his focus to growlers and had to order more last week to keep filling to-go orders.

“And so now the transition is pushing growlers and also working with the Rhode Island Brewers Guild on assistance from other brewers to get some canning done,” he said.

Lopolito said the Rhode Island Brewers Guild has played a big role in advocating for breweries and helping them handle the crisis. In addition to connecting breweries that have canning equipment with those that don’t, the guild has worked closely with state leaders to make sure breweries are accounted for in the considerations around the state measures. Breweries, he said, will be no different than restaurants and other small businesses when it comes to the impact of the crisis.

Just as with restaurants, the restrictions have also impacted staff. With his tasting room closed, none of his bartenders are working, and he’s had to cut the hours of full-time staff.

Ravenous Brewing Company in Cumberland was among those forced to cancel its St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Starting March 19, the brewery began filling to-go orders of four-packs after closing the taproom.