Owners of Sugar House Distillery and New World Distillery talk about measures they have taken to pivot and adapt to COVID-19 closures. Dina Blaes Regional Director for Salt Lake County offers recommendations.
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Utah’s distilleries have been media darlings in recent years. Thanks to Utah liquor law changes over the past few years many of them have sprouted up in former industrial areas offering tasting areas with the ability to sell their own products in their own liquor stores. James Fowler opened Sugar House Distillery seven years ago, in recent years his brand has taken off, especially with Salt Lake City consumers and his spirits with unique old script branding sell very well at Utah State Liquor stores.
“I’ve just been very fortunate that this hasn’t been a downturn but actually I’ve seen three benefits from this.” Fowler said that the three benefits he has realized were first when the earthquake hit and State Liquor stores were closed he saw lines of consumers realizing they needed to stock up stretching around his building. He nearly sold out in the three days State Liquor stores were closed after the March 18th earthquake.
Fowler also adapted his operations to produce hand sanitizer, “which I’ve been selling.”. He spoke in detail about what he did on the Utah Stories Show podcast, with Dina Blaes Regional Director for Salt Lake County in studio to answer questions of what small business owners could be doing to survive the Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City recent extensions of closures.
Blaes said that currently the County has no plans to extend closures past May 1st. And that perhaps by then restaurants and possibly bars will be able to reopen after that time. “I can’t say for certain but currently we are not planning on extending the closures further.” said Blaes.
Also on the program was Chris Cross, co-owner of New World Distillery located in Eden, Utah. New World’s business model differs greatly from Sugar House Distillery in that they rely heavily on tours of their distilleries and tourism for sales. They have had to take a different route. Cross said they had to lay off five employees, he is the only employee working right now. Cross said that he has applied for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), but that with the requirement that his distillery and tasting room remain closed, the layoffs were the right thing to do in the short term.
New World Distillery makes agave spirits, gin and a cherry liquor made from local Utah bing cherries. They were recently featured in Forbes Magazine. Cross says he is unaware of what liquor store sales have been since COVID-19 closures, and he doesn’t have the numbers to see if sales in liquor stores have at all compensated for the huge reduction in sales he is experiencing due to bars and restaurants being closed as well as his own outlet. Cross did take advantage of one of the SBA loan programs which enabled him to defer any payments interest-free for six months. “That has been a huge help for us.”
Cross’ call to action, “Buy local. When you are stocking up, realize the huge difference you can make by choosing locally-made products.”
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