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COVID-19 shutdown puts strain on the South Jersey craft brewery business
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COVID-19 shutdown puts strain on the South Jersey craft brewery business


Tuckahoe Brewing Company was only closed for one week for sales since Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statewide stay-at-home order March 21.

But the Egg Harbor Township-based business has still been negatively impacted by the battle to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rob Callaghan, Tuckahoe Brewing’s sales manager, estimates that business revenue has decreased by about 75% since the company’s tasting room has been closed to the public. They are only able to do deliveries and curbside pickup.

Statewide, craft breweries’ chances to make money are being squeezed by the pandemic. The ability to sell their product to restaurants and bars and on their own premises has been greatly reduced because customers are not allowed inside. The longer the current situation exists, the greater the chance that some craft breweries may close permanently.

“It’s impacting everybody some,” said Callaghan, who added he feels like the Tom Hanks character in the 2000 film “Cast Away,” where a man is stranded on a deserted island. “I feel trapped some days.”

The Brewers Association, the trade association representing small and independent American craft brewers, released results of a survey last month that said the average drop of onsite and draft sales was 65% and 91% respectively.

A majority of brewers, who answered the survey, said they can only last a few months based on current costs, revenues and the current level of state and federal aid if the social distance measures stay where they are now.

Mike Kivowitz, president and founder of the online resource New Jersey Craft Beer, said some craft breweries may not survive if they can’t get certain supplies needed to sell beer to go.

But some craft breweries have taken advantage of having closed tasting rooms to improve, Kivowitz said.

“Some have been cleaning house and reorganizing and repairing and making new recipes. Some opened during this time for the first time,” Kivowitz said. “From what I see happening around, most breweries are adapting and have it figured out for now.”

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Most of Tuckahoe Brewing’s business is geared toward distributing their beer to bars and restaurants, which are closed.

Even before the pandemic, it was increasingly tough to make it in the craft beer business as beers made in New Jersey faced more competition for sales from out-of-state craft beers, Callaghan said.

Three 3’s Brewing Company in Hammonton has been directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing state of emergency, said owner/brewer Michael Geller.

“Our draft distribution sales across from New Jersey and Pennsylvania have ground to a 100% halt. All distributor orders have been canceled indefinitely for draft beer, which is a significant portion of our business,” Geller said.

For Paul Simmons, owner of Glasstown Brewing Company in Millville, nothing has been good or beneficial about the shutdown even though he was fortunate to have a beer canner and to have invested in a large brew house in December. They are selling to liquor stores. Walk-up customers can buy beer from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

“We are still hopeful of having a decent year,” Simmons said.

Simmons is concerned about what the rules will be for bars, restaurants and even his own tasting room when customers are allowed back inside for service. Based on other states, bars and restaurants are operating at 25% capacity because of social distancing, which he sees as problematic.

“After two weeks, I can see either businesses being lax, or customers rejecting it. It will very difficult to maintain it,” Simmons said.

The current environment is the most challenging that Cape May Brewing Company CEO Ryan Krill has operated in for the nine years his business has existed.

Krill represented breweries and distilleries on the Cape May County-Wide Recovery Initiative that sent recommendations to the governor. He is advocating for the flexibility of 65% and 75% capacity for indoor service and outdoor service respectively or tables being 6 feet apart, whichever allows for more social distancing, at restaurants, bars and breweries.

“People will not be bellying up to the bar elbow to elbow,” said Krill, who sold 24,000 barrels of beer last year and was looking to increase to 31,000 barrels this year. “We could survive in the current state. It would be painful.”

Contact: 609-272-7202


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