Attention craft beer fans: Phila Zoning has approved Wissahickon Brewing Company’s new tasting room on Schoolhouse lane. Looks like they’re celebrating with a giveaway! Head to WBC’s Facebook page to enter to win.
(But wow there was some puzzling push-back when they presented to the community earlier this month…)
ORIGINAL POST 11-18-16:
Beer here? Could be! Wissahickon Brewing Company’s tasting room presentation went over well at Wednesday’s Zoning meeting, except for the usual suspects, who seemed… passionate. Lively video, plus details on WBC’s plans, too.
Heading into Wednesday’s zoning meeting, we were optimistic that Wissahickon Brewing Company‘s new tasting room would be approved for their brewery on Schoolhouse Lane. After all, Tim Gill has been THE MAN at every festival this Fall: Castle on Tap, The Murphy Mile — he and his sons even ran EFCC’s beer garden for Autumn Street Fest.
Then again, neighbors can be tetchy about retail alcohol outlets near home. Fortunately, almost everyone who came out for the meeting brought reasonable questions and offered support for their success. Almost everyone.
A couple of hold-outs by PhillyU, though, gave the Gills all the guff they could muster. And some audience members, too.
First, the good news: beer is returning to the Falls! Way back when the area was swarming with German & Irish mill workers, there was practically a brewery on every corner. In fact, Wissahickon Brewing Company is located on the site of Guckes beer garden & park. Currently, this swath of land along the railroad here’s zoned for industrial — WBC does not need variances to brew or sell retail/wholesale beer, only for the tasting room.
BTW, other businesses located here (in case you’re curious, we sure were): a general contractor, boat storage, container gardens, and a commercial electrician where, apparently, a factory used to make dartboards. Dartboards! The stuff you learn at meetings…
Anyway, Tim & his family’s plan is pretty straightforward. The tasting room would have limited hours, starting out, but the goal is probably a Wednesday to Saturday operation, opening around 5pm and closing 9pm-ish on weeknights and maybe 10:00 – 10:30 on the weekends. (Full rendering here, view Tim’s entire presentation here).
Tim stressed, this is not a bar. No mixed drinks, no shots, no cocktails. Craft beer for enjoying, like a fine cheese or wine. Customers will be able to tour the facility, taste WBC’s different varieties of beer, and take some home — they’ll sell growlers, crowlers, as well as four & six packs (pre-order necessary for kegs, half kegs & sixtels).
Of course, we’ll also be able to buy beer to enjoy right there! <happy dance>
There’ll also be food — although the tasting room is NOT a restaurant. Pennsylvania’s liquor laws require snacks of some kind wherever alcohol is being offered for consumption. Tim could put out bowls of peanuts and call it a day, but what fun would that be? Working for the city, Tim was part of the team that started the food truck program at Love Park. He’s got yummy connections.
The tasting room’ll have power hook-ups so the food trucks who park here can work as cleanly and quietly as possible. Trucks’ll rotate regularly for maximum variety. Indoor dining only — although Tim said he’d be interested in having a patio at some point because it’s a nice spot to hang out.
Finally, Wissahickon Brewing Company strives to be a part of the community. They’re kid-friendly, dog-friendly. They’ll have toys and space to run around. Already they’re planning to provide yoga space, and they’re also interested in food banks, pet rescues, and local groups like runners, cyclists, bible studies, etc.
Reactions in the room seemed largely positive, but the meeting was rather dominated by repeated questions from long-time EFCC’er Meg Greenfield and a neighbor on Schoolhouse lane that you may remember fondly from a recent PhillyU meeting.
They pretended to be baffled by the idea of a family-friendly tasting room. Like they’d never heard of Tired Hands or Broken Goblet or Yards down on the waterfront. “These things do exist,” Tim firmly but politely insisted.
Word! An audience member’s hand shot up, and he explained how he lived in Germany for 2 years with the Air Force, and every town had a little beer hall attached to a brewery. The military even promoted tours, and families would spend the day visiting villages & maybe taking home some beer if they discovered something they liked. It’s really not a strange concept, people do it all the time.
“But that location is dangerous!” was the next objection. True, Schoolhouse lane there is a nasty slope & curve, plus the train tracks too, ugh. But that’s not Tim’s responsibility to fix (pretty sure Philly Streets Dept would be freaked out if he tried).
What’s his alternative? Forgo business opportunities because the people of East Falls need to be protected from their own inability to drive? Is this why we can’t have nice things?
Another objection — “PhillyU students will get drunk & all Hell will break loose!” Tim assured the group that they will make every effort to properly ID every customer, and further will work with the University to make sure craft-beer-loving students aren’t a problem for the neighborhood.
“How do we know your hours will remain limited? Will you sign an enforceable agreement with Community Council?” This one set off a real firestorm. Meg seemed to be insisting East Falls has been burned by businesses who’ve said they were doing one thing, then done another.
Meg and her ally pushed and pushed for the Gills to commit their plans to paper with signatures. Is it me, or is this a threat to make things difficult for EFCC’s zoning chair if he fails to impose the agreement:
“Todd, I don’t understand why you don’t want to have something that memorializes this whole arrangement in writing before it happens if you expect support from the members of your own organization.” (0:28) ??
“If things change, you can always come back to the community and work things out,” Meg added, as if changing your variance were a simple renegotiation.
Gina launched into the story of a lady who sold water ice on Midvale Avenue maybe 10 years ago, in the space where Joe’s barbershop is now. Initially, her business plan was to sell water ice in pre-packaged containers from her store, so she figured why not sign the agreement?
She never considered things might change, but soon after opening, she realized there was a market for scooped water ice here, too, but nooooo…. she would’ve had to go back to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) to change the agreement, which would’ve cost thousands of dollars and just wasn’t worth it. She closed soon after. And East Falls lost what could’ve been a great little dessert spot.
(BTW: also, a neighborhood agreement can really hamper opportunities if Tim wanted to sell the brewery or bring in a partner at any point in the future.)
Gina warned strongly against WBC signing any agreement at this time, “We want this business to be successful, we don’t want to pull the noose too tight before the business has even opened to find yourself suffering because you can’t do what you need to do to make your business successful.”
Other neighbors agreed that it seemed a bad idea to try to hamstring a new business that could be such an asset to the neighborhood.
I happened to be seated beside one of these brave souls who got all “wrathed on” by the nay-sayers — check it out above. Wow, this dude is annnnnngry.
Despite the healthy dose of bullying from neighbors who prefer East Falls at a stand-still, overall signs seem really good for a tasting room at Wissahickon Brewing Company soon. Even the angriest audience members settled down enough at the end to wish Tim and his family good luck and success.
EFCC’s zoning committee will be making their decision privately as usual, while East Falls Forward‘s members *ARE VOTING RIGHT NOW* to send a recommendation to Philly’s zoning board. (You can sign up here — it’s free!) Wissahickon Brewing Company goes before ZBA November 30th, we’ll know soon enough.
Steve’ll be there to represent EFF — also, anyone is welcome to come down & speak before the Board (EFCC members often do). If you can’t make it but would like to voice your opinion, email East Falls Forward your comments and Steve will read them aloud before Zoning.
Fingers crossed for our local beer scene!
VOTE! Tasting room — yea or nay? Online voting available for 48 hours at East Falls Forward. NOTE: Must be East Falls resident to vote.
UPDATE: We’ve heard that EFCC will be pursuing “some kind of agreement for hours and some other things.” Details to follow.