Beer-loving couple seeks to brew up community support in Wayne Junction – but some neighbors are fermenting with apprehension.
Earlier this month, Todd and Laura Lacy held an investors night at Germantown’s Our House Cultural Center to showcase plans for Attic Brewery. The Lacys say that this project has been two years in the making and is now only one year away from completion. The current timeline projects a start of the actual construction in July 2018 and a grand opening between January and March of 2019. If all goes to plan, Germantown will have its first brewery in almost a century.
The Lacys say they were inspired to build a place for the community to gather, therefore Attic will be a direct-to-consumer business model rather than a packing/distribution operation. Their location behind Wayne Junction train station is a 6,000 sq ft former industrial garage, which the Lacys’ plan to revitalize while still embracing the trendy industrial feel to it. (Two other new businesses are also planned for this area: Deke’s BBQ and the Wayne Junction diner).
The investor’s night meeting was extremely informative and exciting. Their four craft beers they offered for tasting were full-flavored, with compelling and eclectic tastes. However, despite the Lacys’ delicious brews, a brewery in Germantown may not as palatable as the Attic’s German-style Sage Gose. Upon hearing news of a brewery, some community members (commenting online & around the neighborhood) were left with a bad taste.
Crime is already a concern here. According to national FBI crime reports, the overall crime rate in Germantown is 90% higher than the national average. In the past 6 months alone, Germantown has experienced over 500 accounts of violent crimes. Because of this, a local block captain fears that a brewery will “bring in the wrong crowd” and “could be dangerous.” Chatter on some local Facebook groups echoes these sentiments, “Bars and nightlife in Germantown attract criminals and drug offenders who lurk, waiting to steal money, cellphones, jewelry, or anything that can be bartered with.” Some residents think a brewery is the last thing Germantown needs in respect to the crime issue.
How justified are these concerns? According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Defense, 40% of all violent crimes including theft, assault, and murder involve alcohol. But alcohol alone isn’t the cause of crime – social environment is a huge factor. The Lacys emphasized that Attic will be, in law and nature, a brewery, which is very different from a bar or pub. The “tasting room” atmosphere is relaxed and family-friendly, and will attract clients who enjoy different varieties of beer – generally a well-behaved crowd. And the place will be closed by 10pm, even on weekends.
OK, but what about the G-word? Although gentrification has not become a huge problem in Germantown yet, some residents fear that it’s already starting. “This is the beginning of the take over,” a neighbor ominously declared. He went on to suggest that a brewery near Wayne Junction would bring an influx of young Center City professionals lured by new recreational opportunities and easy access to the train downtown. Before you knew it, luxury apartments would start cropping up, skyrocketing taxes and pushing long-time residents out.
Which happens all the time, let’s be honest. But gentrification is an extremely complex subject – there’s no way to predict whether Attic Brewery will be the demise of this neighborhood, or a boon to it. For local developer Ken Weinstein, new businesses like Attic Brewery can invigorate communities by bringing jobs and more foot traffic for local shops and restaurants. A brewery can be a great space for events and fundraisers, too – a place where neighbors can come together.
But still, change is scary. Some residents feel threatened by what they see are tactics to alter the demographic in Germantown, to force upon them things they don’t want. “We don’t drink beer,” one neighbor flatly said, speaking apparently for the whole of Germantown. She’s not far off, though: Germantown is around 80% African American, a demographic that normally doesn’t drink beer. According to the National Brewers Association, only 12% of African Americans are weekly beer drinkers (compared to 62% of Caucasians).
And craft beer? African Americans make up only 3.7% of the market. So a craft brewery in Germantown may seem out of step with the needs and preferences of the community. No surprise some residents are feeling alienated. “You’re doing this TO us, not FOR us,” they challenge.
To their credit, the Lacys take accusations of gentrification very seriously. Germantown has been their home for many years, they love their neighborhood and its “diverse and passionate” populace. They shop and dine locally. They cherish the art and architecture here – and the history (the Germans who settled this area loved beer, btw). The Lacys never considered opening their brewery anywhere else.
Their goal is to energize Germantown’s economy, and support charities and art initiatives. According to their website, a portion of their profits will be donated to local independent arts and music, and various other community programs. They also plan to organize cleanups, food drives, fundraisers, etc. to help boost quality of life in the neighborhood. Attic servers will receive living wages (before tips) and benefits. In addition, the Lacys are offering neighbors a unique opportunity to own a part of their company, and grow with it.
Thru the public benefit corporation platform WeFunder, people who give money get a stake in Attic Brewery, and a potential for return on their investment. “This is not donating,” the Lacys told BillyPenn.com, “This is a revenue share.” Anyone can invest as little as $100 and earn 150% of it back. They’re hoping to raise between $100 – $500k for their brewing equipment, and help residents benefit even more directly from their enterprise. Again and again at Investors Night, the Lacys stressed their desire to celebrate and revitalize Germantown.
They get that culture and history are the area’s biggest appeals – and they’re excited restore an old abandoned building to create an inviting community space. They want to preserve architectural details for everyone to enjoy. Even the names of their beers reflect the area: their “Bloodhound Brown Ale,” for instance, is named for the soldiers in the battle of Germantown. They’re eager to offer movie nights, live music, and other events to draw people together over affordable beers ($4 – $8) catered to the palates of Germantown residents. And good news for non-beer fans: they’ll also be able to offer wine, cider, and spirits.
Just like brewing beer, launching a new business is an organic process that takes time and offers no guarantees. With the right conditions and ingredients, though, the results can be sublime. If the Lacys fulfill their promises — and if the community supports their efforts — The Attic could be a communal and financial treasure for Germantown residents. Best of luck to The Attic Brewing Company and my beloved neighborhood of Germantown. Here’s hoping we can join forces and clink glasses soon in Wayne Junction.
(Watch the full Investor’s Night presentation below)