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Selling the Cellar: Belmont Beer Store to Franchise Concept

Center's Craft Beer Cellar to work to promote artisan drinks in state. Nationwide? Well.

Before friends, fans and beer lovers, Suzanne Schalow reminisced a little on Tuesday, remembering the day nearly two years ago when she and her partner, Kate Baker, worried that their dream of spreading the word about craft beer from a store in Belmont would be ignored.

But on that first day, she recalled, , waiting for the doors to open for the first time at on Leonard Street.

"That's when I knew we had something that would grow," said Schalow to Belmont Patch.

And since the opening, the store has thrived as it has become a mecca for patrons of artisan beers, stocking more than 1,100 small craft beers, most from US and New England brewers.

So, Schalow said at the Tuesday gathering, it's time to spread the message of craft brewing. But rather than exert the time and energy of expanding their own store – they admit to being extremely "hands on" – she and Baker will be doing it by franchising the successful model they've developed in Belmont Center.

By the end of 2013, there will likely be three "Craft Beer Cellars" in Massachusetts, said Schalow. And while demand by those who want to promote craft beer may actually swamp the pair, they will be taking a "go slow" approach to the venture.

"We are not interested in throwing up 30 stores in the first year," said Schalow. "We really want to know the people and neighborhoods that the franchises will be in."

She points to the success of the Belmont store, which she and Baker took nearly two years of planning and execution before they opening the Leonard Street address in November 2010.

"It's not just about opening a store, it's about educating the public on all this great beer that's out there," said Schalow.

Schalow also told Belmont Patch that this venture is not just financial, rather the goal of the new stores is the promotion of great, small brewers that are riding a growing wave of popularity.

"Still only six percent of beer sales are craft brews," said Schalow. "We really want to change that," said said, revealing the Cellar's new mantra and path: "no crap beer."

The partners are focusing on neighborhoods and towns that both are without a craft beer presence and are in the midst of a revival, focusing on Lowell, Swampscott, Chelsea and Needham.

As the stores open, she and Baker will work with their current distributors to ensure access and product availability for their future partners.

Nor are they seeking to dominate the entire craft beer market, going so far as to keep some distance from existing stores that have been at the forefront of selling artisan beers.

"We're not here to run anyone out of business who have worked hard in creating an environment that we all can succeed," said Baker.

As for a national outlook, Schalow said she'd love to be in Washington DC or Chicago "but that's really not what we're looking to do just yet."

Peggy Pelrine August 06, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Thank you for just being here!! Peggy

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