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Finding My Building: An Absurd Saga

On Nov 14, 2012 - 5 Comments - Start-Up

Finding a building was tortuous. It consumed half-to-three quarters of my time for the last 6 months, and the process was characterized by a seemingly endless series of frustrations. I tried mightily to remain über-zen about the whole thing, but goddamn was that hard.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending (at least for the time being; we haven’t started ripping the place apart yet), and the hero is my real estate broker, Jason Smithson. The guy was an absolutely tireless advocate for the brewery. Real estate brokers don’t exactly have a reputation for high ethical standards, and several of the brokers I met along the way made me want to take a shower after we shook hands. But Jason was magnificent: brutally honest, hard working, and determined to the bitter end. He won’t need to buy a lot of beer in the future.

As Jason can attest, virtually everything about a brewery makes finding a suitable location difficult. A production brewery is a factory with very specific and uncommon needs, plus a retail component (in the form of a tasting room).

This tension alone poses a major challenge. Most modern industrial buildings are in soul-crushing business parks far from everything that doesn’t suck. Granted, if your beer is good enough, people will venture to the most remote and lifeless corners of the world to visit you, but I view that as a less than ideal circumstance, in part because I’d have to work there.

So I decided at the start of the building search to look only in the urban core of San Diego, a limitation I nearly had to abandon. This requirement immediately disqualified the most obvious industrial areas of the county: Miramar and Otay Mesa. Quality industrial buildings grow like crab grass in those areas, and they are comparatively cheap. They are also very far from North Park.

So that left me with two areas: Barrio Logan and Point Loma. I looked at virtually every available building that might even remotely work in those areas. This thoroughness led me to some buildings that were beyond marginal, but were, in retrospect, worth visiting just for the lulz.

The most absurd was a building that literally had an adult bookstore inside of it. Like all industrial buildings, it was a giant rectangle, only this one contained a small plywood shack overflowing with dildos. When the broker representing the landlord suggested that we just build around it since the bookstore had no plans to move out, that very large room became very, very quiet. I mumbled something about the lack of loading docks and left.

Another gem was a warehouse I looked at in the East Village. Condos are rapidly replacing industrial property in the East Village, but my imagination abounded with fantasies of finding a historic old warehouse nestled among all the new towers.

And we did find a building that, while on the small side, seemed like it could work. Unfortunately, the flyer neglected to mention the vibrant open-air drug market out front. The moment Jason crushed an empty crack vial under his gleaming loafer was positively cinematic.

I had great hope for Barrio Logan too. It’s a fascinating area close to downtown that seems perfect for a brewery. I love Chicano Park, the low rider festival, the historic character of the area, everything. And I’d love to have been close to the new Public Market, which is frickin’ rad.

Unfortunately, many of the buildings there were built in the 1940s and haven’t seen many upgrades since. Things like three phase power, 1”+ water lines, gas service, 18’+ clear heights, adjacent property for expansion, etc. were hard to come by (to say nothing of little things like building code and seismic compliance.) I got the sense that most landlords there are waiting for redevelopment to sweep through and aren’t particularly interested in upgrading their buildings in the meantime.

So Point Loma it is! Modern Times will be located at 3725 Greenwood St., right off of the Rosecrans exit of the 8 freeway. Folks in Ocean Beach should be excited—we’ll be a short 10-minute bike ride away.

Despite all of the frustrations, we ended up in a great spot. It’s in the core of the city, it’s very tall (24’-29’), it has good access, it’s in reasonably decent shape, and we got a fair enough deal on it. Having the lease signed is a relief beyond all explanation.

Now begins the real work: transforming a shell into a working brewery.