Follow up: Brew

Brew - Josh and August.jpg

AOA is taking things a little easy this week for summer break. So we thought it'd be a good time to catch up with some local businesses we've covered during the last year (or so) and find out how things are going.

Next up: a look at Brew. Almost exactly one year ago Joshua Cotrona, who owned the Fuzz Records shop at the corner of State and Lark in Albany partnered with August Rosa to turn the space into Brew, a beverage shop featuring craft beer and specialty coffees.

A year ago Rosa told us why they were opening a craft beverage shop on Lark Street:

The idea came up when we realized the need for a craft beer outlet in the Center Square neighborhood. We decided to expand the offerings to include coffee, teas, and other beverages down the road. Our shop will help residents in downtown Albany skip a trip out to the suburbs for these items.

A year later, they're still there educating customers about craft brews, hosting tastings, and balancing their dreams with the wants and needs of a constantly changing neighborhood.

Brew Exterior

So, how have things gone since you opened?

August: Yeah, it's been a year, and that is a very good thing for a small business -- to get through that first year. Things are going great. Awesome neighborhood, great customers -- a lot of support.

I think what is working for us a lot here is our laid back approach to the craft beer movement, trying to not make this an intimidating experience. We do a good job of trying to educate new craft beer customers and making this a fun, and not a daunting, experience for them. We have events and try to make the shop as approachable as possible.

Even with the coffees and teas, you can tell if someone is new to the whole world and you try to just walk them through it with baby steps into the new world of craft beer or coffee.

Brew - Shelves.jpg

What sorts of challenges have you encountered?

Josh: I guess just learning what the neighborhood would like to see in our shop. And learning the ins and outs of the industry because both of us are kind of new to the craft beer world as far as actually working in it. We knew it from drinking craft beers, but not from working in it.

Also, just dealing with the elements we can't control -- like winter weather -- when people don't want to leave their houses. The winter was a challenge but I think it was really important that we've made it through our first winter. But since we are focusing on the neighborhood, anything that comes outside of Center Square is a bonus to us. When the winter is brutal and you don't want to lose your parking spot -- that is definitely an element of safety we had for the winter season.

Brew Teas.jpg

Lark Street has gotten some tough press lately. Are you feeling a lack of traffic?

August: We have great loyal customers that come in every week. They are definitely a huge reason why were are here. I think the neighborhood is still very vibrant. We see happy faces every day.

Josh: I think it's like that with anything. Like a sports team -- they're never going to be on top all the time. Lark Street is like everything else in the world -- it's going to have its good days and it's going to have its bad days. It's like with everything. We had one government for almost 30 years and now everything is new -- I don't mean to get political -- I'm just saying everything changes. People move in and out. Just since I've lived here the area has moved from an area with mostly college students to people with families.

I had a customer who said, 'I saw you guys once. I thought you'd be gone in six months.' But there are a lot of shops on this street that have been here for a long time -- 20 years or so. I think some of the ones that open and close fast are the ones that weren't helped. They had an idea but maybe not a business plan or maybe didn't factor in those costs for things like licenses. You know, it would be great if there was something in place that could really spell it out a little better.

What is something that you have learned that you wouldn't have expected to learn?

Josh: Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself. We might want to carry something but if no one wants it we have to be like, 'Well, I really like it, but maybe we shouldn't carry it anymore.' You have to realize the needs or the wants of the neighborhood, or who you are actually catering to. You have to put --not really your dream on hold -- but maybe set some of your ego aside and remember we are here to serve the people that keep us afloat.

Brew Cold Cans.jpg

August: We were very much interested in craft beer as consumers, but not as business people, so we've been learning something new every week and trying to make the shop better every week. We've probably doubled the selection in here since we started and prices have dropped pretty drastically.

Josh: People are very aware of the cost of everything everywhere. So being aware of how we can we lower our prices to still pay our bills, to still restock everything and make sure the customer is happy because if they are not happy we are not going to be a store for very long.

August: I think we've been doing good at adapting ourselves to it. We are getting way closer to the sweet spot. I feel confident in what the shop is doing currently. It's just been a lot of learning. The market will tell you when you're doing something wrong. When you have something on the shelves that is overpriced, it's not going to move. That's a signal from the market telling you to lower the price on that. So you can easily pick up on things from folks.

Josh: People aren't afraid to say exactly what they think.

August: I think the locavore movement is awesome, but I think people naturally have an economizing behavior. If something is at a local shop for $1 or $2 more than at Walmart there is no reason for them not to shop at Walmart. You have to be competitive with big businesses. You can't assume you are just going to get things handed to you because you are a small business. You are in the same pool.

Josh: And as a whole most people get the concept -- especially if they are used to living in neighborhoods like this. We have Dunkin' Donuts at the end of the street, but we don't really have franchises here. It's a conscious effort by this neighborhood not to have that here, so people appreciate that you are not going to have the lowest prices of anywhere. You are always going to get a couple of people that don't get it, but you have to let that roll off your back. You know one guy didn't get it -- but 20 others did.

Brew Growler fills.jpg

Is there one particular frustration that you've faced that if you could just wipe that away, it would make a difference for you?

Josh: I'm sure everybody says the same thing, but anything having to do with paying bills. If there were no such thing as bills it would be a lot easier to run a business, but in reality everyone pays bills, pays taxes. That's why not everyone owns a businesses because there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through. There are a lot of things you don't realize exist until you are in it. Licensing and what we are allowed to do in the store is hard. We host tasting events because we can't personally give out samples.

August: The constraints we have with licensing are tough. The State Liquor Authority is very helpful when you have a question about what you are allowed, and what you're not allowed, to do but the laws are very difficult. We sell growlers, but we aren't allowed to give out a tiny sample. Those little things are difficult. I knew there were certain things we were not allowed to do, but you wouldn't really know unless you put yourself behind the counter and actually deal with it.

Brew  Tastings.jpg

Josh: It feels like there is something new everyday. I mean, obviously, there isn't but there's stuff where you go, 'Wait, that's really a thing?' Stuff like bagging a six pack ... there is no law about bags, but you wouldn't know that.

Is there something that's happened to you, or some development, that's felt like a win?

August: Just the simple things... you have a customer that doesn't know what is going on and you convince them to try something new and you see that customer come back, that's rewarding.

Josh: The festivals have been good, too. We do alright on a normal Tuesday or whatever, but those events can make the difference for the next four months.

What's next for you?

August: Do we know what is happening next week? (laughs)

Josh: I've had a constant struggle with baby steps and just wanting to be at a certain point. There is the frustration that you just want to be at a higher pinnacle. You're thinking, 'I know the potential this could have -- I just have to work for it.' Whatever you are doing -- even if it's something like cleaning the floor or stocking the shelves -- doing it the most efficiently is important. This is like a machine that works for us and since it is only the two of us we have to know how to make our time count the most because it could be really tiring if you are running around doing a lot of things.

August: At this point we are are working on little things. We have a year under our belt now we are thinking about what is next. Maybe getting employees. If we had some folks in here to help out it might be a little easier.

Josh: I think August had this idea [for the shop] and I backed because I lived here eight or nine years. We know this neighborhood very well. I'd be a little apprehensive about branching out because we cater for a neighborhood. I don't know that many other neighborhoods that well, so I don't know that we would branch out into another neighborhood.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

More follow-ups from this week:
+ Bread and Honey
+ Follow up: Collar City Hard Pressed
+ Fort Orange General Store

Find It

209 Lark Street
Albany , NY 12210


I spy Porkslap..Great post, I'll be stopping by - Looks awesome. Is Fuzz Records still there? I might be confused by "partnered with August Rosa to turn the space into Brew". Thanks!

The space that was Fuzz is now there is no longer a store but I believe I heard they still do mail order for records? This has been a welcomed addition to the area...glad they're doing so well!

I'm leaving Center Square and moving to Troy this weekend and the thing I will miss the most is Brew. It was so great being able to just walk around the corner and grab something if I felt like a beer, and the selection was always great. I've tried so many new things since they opened. They introduced me to 21st Amendment, which makes some of my favorite beers. Come to Troy, guys!

I wish them all the success. But I still really miss Fuzz Records.

Love having Brew in the neighborhood. It's a well-designed, well-curated, and friendly store that sells great beer. It's a much better experience than buying over-priced Saranac at the dirty bodega. I'm also glad that they have been taking a serious look at competitive pricing. I'd love to go from spending some of my beer dollars at Brew to spending all of my beer dollars at Brew.

my SO and i live across the street from brew and try to make it in at least once a week. the best thing about the shop is the fact that, as august mentions here, i've never felt intimidated for not knowing about a certain beer or coffee. knowing i can have solid recommendations from knowledgeable, friendly owners in a laid-back setting is HUGE for the appeal of a place like this. glad they've made it a year and hope they continue to do well

This place is so awesome. I bring friends from out of town fairly regularly and everyone has been impressed. Great selection, very friendly people and great neighbors. Congrats on the first year, Brew! I'm looking forward to many more.

Love this shop and the two handsome gents that own it - cheers to many more years of great local business

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