ST. ALBANS — For the past year, 14th Star Brewing Company, LLC has been growing: in production, staff, and most importantly, popularity.
Today, the local brewery’s founder and owner, Steve Gagner, announced the latest growth spurt. While already anticipated in chatter on social media, Gagner said he and Pomerleau Real Estate have entered an agreement to move the brewery to the St. Albans Shopping Plaza. It is to be located in the vacant bowling alley building.
Gagner said he expects the 16,000-square-foot space will be up and running by the end of next summer.
The announcement comes about a month after Gagner entered a distribution agreement with Ferrell Distributing Company, which is now handling the brewery’s wholesale accounts and shipping their local products throughout the state.
Representatives from Ferrell – Randy Fortin, Ryan Chaffin and Jeff O’Connell – were on hand today at the brewery’s current Lower Newton Street building, as were real estate mogul Tony Pomerleau, St. Albans City Director of Business Development Marty Manahan and contractor Norm Stanislas, president of T & M Construction & Development Corp., who was hired to retrofit the former bowling alley building to fit Gagner’s needs.
When the St. Albans Bowling Center closed at the end of this summer, it didn’t take the building’s owner — Pomerleau — too long to find his next tenant. Pomerleau said he and Gagner agreed on a two-year trial period — at an undisclosed, reduced rent — to make sure the location was a good fit for the owner and the brewery.
The brewery will begin the transition to its retail and production operations next year, eventually moving out of its small garage space on Lower Newton Street, Gagner said.
As lawyers drew up legal documents today, the agreement comes after Gagner began his partnership with Ferrell, Pomerleau said. The 96-year-old real estate magnate said he used to be in competition with Ferrell back in the 1940s when Pomerleau ran his own beer wholesale business. With Ferrell, a statewide beer distributer, in the mix, Pomerleau said he was happy to give Gagner a deal because of the anticipated success.
“I agreed to give them a break because of Ferrell,” Pomerleau said.
Knowing that it takes a little extra help to get started in the business world, Pomerleau said he was happy to cut a deal with Gagner, a St. Albans native, who also works for the Vermont National Guard.
“We’re very fortunate to come to an agreement with Mr. Pomerleau,” Gagner said. “We really do appreciate it.”
Pomerleau said giving a local business a good deal on rent would help the brewery get a good foothold downtown, while also filling an empty space that could’ve been a burden to the owner.
“If it’s vacant, anything is better than nothing,” Pomerleau said. “I know he’ll make a good partner.”
While specific plans for the new space— other than gutting the bowling alley interior — are yet to be announced, Gagner wanted to ensure that his business wouldn’t negatively impact downtown restaurants. He said the brewery would set up a larger taproom for retail space, where people can buy and fill up growlers — 64-ounce bottles — of the local beers.
“We’re not looking to duplicate the stuff that’s already well-represented on Main Street,” Gagner said. “We’d just like to share the customers that are already downtown.”
Manahan said the agreement was another great success story for St. Albans. He said having an established brand like 14th Star Brewing closer to the recently revitalized downtown would draw more people to businesses in the shopping plaza and on Main Street.
“It’s a win, win, win,” Manahan said.
This morning, Gagner didn’t hesitate to show off his product, giving a sample to Pomerleau. Gagner joked that Pomerleau should taste if the beer 14th Star Brewing makes is good enough to enter into a partnership. Pomerleau ensured everybody the product was as top-notch as most reviews have insisted.
Gagner also was thankful for support he’s seen throughout the past year, from customers to past and present business partners.
“The support from the community’s been amazing,” Gagner said. “If it wasn’t for this team coming together, I don’t think we’d be moving forward.”