Maryland brewery stresses support for small businesses during pandemic

“If you want a world post-COVID where you want more than just Applebee’s and Targets around, you really, really need to support your local businesses.”

FILE — Denizens Brewing founders Jeff Ramirez and Julie Verratti are photographed during the annual Make It Funky Festival on Sept. 30, 2017, at the Denizens in Silver Spring. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A Maryland business owner said the current economy is “on fire” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and called the moment a “break-the-glass emergency situation.”

“We would lose everything if this fails,” said Julie Verratti about her business, Denizens Brewing Co., which she opened in 2014 with her wife, Emily Bruno, and their brother-in-law and business partner Jeff Ramirez. So, failure “is not an option,” Verratti said.

She spoke Friday at an online “Business Briefing” hosted by Montgomery County Council President Sidney Katz, whose family owned and operated a small business in Gaithersburg for three generations.

When the pandemic hit, Verratti said Denizens’ business dropped 80% in April and 60% in May. When they were able to reopen their taprooms in June, business was down 50% compared to a year ago, she said.

“It’s been very, very difficult to bring in the revenues we need, and right now, we’re just kind of surviving,” Verratti said.

“Unfortunately, our rent hasn’t been cut by 50%; our debt service payments haven’t been cut by 50%. That’s just the reality we’re living in,” she added.

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Asked by Katz how her business has been managing, Verratti said being able to reopen for dining — even at limited capacity — has been helpful, but that Denizens also shifted to sales for on-site pickup and home delivery.

Denizens just launched a new initiative. The brewery’s two sites, one in Silver Spring and one in Riverdale Park, have teamed up with other regional small businesses to showcase their products. Items from the newly formed “Craft Collection” are on sale on the Denizens’ website.

“You can buy locally roasted coffee; you can buy locally baked cookies, spices, candles, chocolates,” Verratti said, all items that are made by other small businesses in the area, including Vigilante Coffee of Hyattsville and cookies from Whisked in D.C.

And Verratti added, with a laugh, “I have also been drinking a lot of whiskey.” Noting that might be odd coming from a brewer, she added, “I should be drinking beer, I guess!”

Katz followed up on Verratti’s comment about how, for a small business owner, everything is on the line when there’s an economic crisis. He said he went into business with his parents in the Gaithersburg store his grandfather had established.

“And all of our houses were on the line every day,” Katz said.

Verratti said her business did qualify for federal assistance, but said Denizens has not received state or local aid. When Katz pressed her to explain, she declined to detail her experience on the webcast, but that she’d share her thoughts with him at another time.

Verratti repeated her call for people to do what they can to support their local businesses.

“If our small businesses go away, our entire tax base goes away,” Verratti said. “If you want a world post-COVID, where you want more than just Applebee’s and Targets around, you really, really need to support your local businesses.”

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