Local craft beer store sees sales surge during pandemic

Black Dog Beer Store has been open for less than three months in Merrifield, but its owner has already seen a recent increase in sales, thanks in part to a federal loan.

As craft brewers face challenges of coronavirus and many breweries pivot to making hand sanitizer, Tyler Cohen says he thinks his new local craft beer store is doing well, all things considered.

While he doesn’t have month-and-month data to compare, he said sales were up 10% from March to April: “That’s a good thing, I guess.”

Cohen, who lives in the Mosaic District, open the store in February at 2672M Avenir Place near the Dunn Loring-Merrifield subway station.

Before the coronavirus pandemic prompted the governor to impose restrictions on businesses, Cohen said 10 to 15 people would be at the store “at all times” on Fridays and Saturdays.

When businesses started closing or switched to delivery, takeout and curbside pickup, Cohen said most of his customers originally ordered online, but now he’s starting to see more. more and more people enter the store.

“Last weekend we had to keep people out,” he said.

What the federal loan process was like

Receive a loan in the first round of funding for the federal government Paycheck Protection Program makes a big difference to the store’s finances and its ability to continue to grow, Cohen said.

“We were getting close to where we could probably survive another month and then have to pay the payroll out of my own pocket, but as soon as we got that [loan], we were able to breathe a sigh of relief,” he said.

Cohen said M&T Bank was “brilliant” telling him what he would need to submit before the application became available and then communicating with him — even on weekends — about the process.

“It was a pretty quick process,” Cohen said, adding that it took about a week after submitting the application to find out he had been approved for the loan and then another week to receive it.

Cohen said he was able to keep all of his staff employed. One employee, who worked part-time, is now working longer shifts and replacing another employee, who is over 65 and has decided to stay home, he said.

As for rent, the store owner offered deferred rent payments for a few months, but Cohen refused. “I think we can pay the rent now.”

COVID-19 changes

The store already had a stock of personal protective equipment, but Cohen always teamed up with a friend to make homemade hand sanitizer when his supply ran low.

“We went from cleaning a few times to constantly cleaning all surfaces,” he said.

Another change allowed people to buy cans and bottles of beer.

“Instead of buying a four-pack on something they didn’t have, people will try one or two,” he said.

And the store’s growler refills are also less popular now that customers “want to avoid touching and touching,” he said.

Accelerating some of his longer-term plans has been one of the biggest challenges Cohen has faced due to the pandemic.

“The Online Store was something I planned to roll out later,” Cohen said. “[The pandemic] forced my hand.

But the pandemic has caused one positive thing, Cohen’s black dog Ash, which inspired the name of the shop: there’s now more time for hour-long walks.

“It was an interesting time with him because we’re both going to go crazy,” he said.

Local community support

For ideas on how to run the store during the pandemic, Cohen said he and his team spoke to local businesses, including nearby social inca and listened to podcasts about the beer industry.

“The store manager is constantly trying to come up with new ideas,” Cohen said.

Local businesses in the community are trying to show their support, he noted.

“I’m probably buying more beer and taking out food to support local businesses,” he said. “We try to help each other.”

Photos via Black Dog Beer Shop/Facebook