Cheers! These WNY breweries have managed to survive and thrive in the COVID-19 pandemic

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – By the end of this year, Western New York will be home to around a dozen new breweries, some of which chose to avoid an excruciating 14 months for businesses.

Those that decided to stay open during the pandemic made it through with production, innovation and creativity.

Tim Herzog, owner of Flying Bison Brewing Company in Larkinville, started seeing hints of a shutdown in late February 2020.

“When the shutdown came in mid-March, then it was painfully obvious that we were going to have to make major changes here,” Herzog said.

As the owner of WNY’s oldest craft brew distributor, Herzog is used to change- but no one could have predicted the pivot he and his staff would have to make as the shutdown extended past the first two weeks. The approach was backward.

“What we were trying to avoid a full parking lot and a line,” Herzog said. “In pre-covid days, that’s what you want. You want a full parking lot and a line because it says, hey this is a great place, let’s keep going.”

More than half of Flying Bison’s revenue is made from sales at bars and restaurants. Both were stripped away, leaving them with only grocery sales.

“We lost that immediately, and almost a year and a half later, it’s coming back, but very slowly,” Herzog said.

So they quickly extended hours, advertised on social media and created a beer pickup service that drew customers from their homes to the parking lot.

Herzog applied for a government PPP loan to keep the lights on and his six employees on the job, which was a top priority.

Like any local brewery with staying power, Flying Bison’s customers are fiercely loyal, whether it’s to the brand and taste, or the act or supporting local businesses in what’s likely their most trying time in existence.

Since the reopen, Herzog’s been driving people back to Larkinville- with running clubs, parking lot yoga, dog adoption events and vaccination clinics.

Events, loyalty and production also kept the lights on and the canning lines humming at Resurgence and 42 North Brewing companies.

Jeff Ware is the president of Resurgence. The First Ward brewery, that opened in June 2019, rewarded craft beer drinkers with curbside food pickup, and a constant flow of new beer offerings, each one a bigger hit than the next.

“I think there were people that bought beer just to make sure that we’d stay open,” Ware said. “I think there were refrigerators that were full of beer, and they still came down and bought a case of beer. And we’re so incredibly grateful for that.”

The lines were just as long at 42 North in East Aurora.

“We had people who came to the drive-thru who never drank craft beer before,” said John Cimperman, founder, 42 North Brewing Co.

Like Herzog and Ware, Cimperman had to shift almost overnight from selling beer from the brewery and restaurants to local store shelves.

“We created a destination, which for 14 months no one could come to,” Cimperman said. “So our model immediately had to shift to retail.”

Their breweries and beer couldn’t be more different, but Herzog, Ware and Cimperman all agree: their breweries managed a generational pandemic, and came out stronger on the other side.

“I think we’re coming into a summer that’s going to be gangbusters for everybody because I think that people are really ready to rock and roll and we’re certainly ready to have them,” Ware said.

“If we can maintain the smarts that we’ve acquired, and had to acquire the past year, plus get the tap room back, plus get the airbnb back, plus our friends in the restaurant business can get their customers back, it’s going to be a really good couple year run,” Cimperman said.

One of the most successful new programs created during the pandemic was Resurgence Pints in the Park program.

Last year, they set up shop at Delaware, Cazenovia and other parks, and they were a huge hit.

This year, the owners of Resurgence, 42 North and Flying Bison are teaming up with the Erie County Parks and Rec department to host a dozen of these events in what will no doubt be a busy summer — at the brewery and at a park near you.

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