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Beer is big business in the Mountain West.
But as government officials begin shutting down bars, restaurants and taprooms across the United States in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, the region’s microbreweries are feeling it.
“We had to lay off everyone yesterday,” said Tom Riemondy, co-owner of Fisher Brewing Company in Salt Lake City. “We told them to go seek unemployment and that they are available for rehire once things get better. But unfortunately that’s the reality of the situation.”
Fisher has been successful enough financially that they can weather the shutdown for a couple of months, according to Riemondy. Still, there’s a lot of worry and uncertainty throughout the industry, which contributes $5.6 billion annually to the Mountain West’s economy.
“The lack of information is what is really scaring everyone,” said Nicole Dicou, executive director of the industry group Utah Brewers Guild. “There isn’t a lot of information right now about small business tax relief, [real estate] lease holds or debt relief or any of those questions. Everyone has the same questions and there is no answer.”
The breweries need responses from local, state and federal governments detailing what kind of financial assistance they may receive, according to Dicou. On Tuesday morning, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she would ask city council to approve a $1 million package to help small businesses there.
Other municipalities in the region are also considering similar proposals, and the Trump administration is readying a $1 trillion stimulus package that may include cash payments for Americans over the next two weeks.
Some breweries may keep afloat because they sell their beer in grocery and liquor stores. Some counties in the Mountain West are allowing microbreweries to keep their taprooms open in order to sell beer to-go in growlers and six packs. Still, while the shutdown may be good for public health — it’s not good for the beer business.
“It’s going to be tight,” said Matt Leow, executive director of the industry group Montana Brewers Association. “For some of these breweries, I think they will be able to weather the storm. For others, we are very concerned about their ability to make it through this crisis.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Follow Nate Hegyi on Twitter @natehegyi.