Tysons, VA

Black Dog Beer Shop has been open for less than three months in Merrifield, but already its owner has seen a recent uptick in sales — partly thanks to a federal loan.

As craft brewers face coronavirus challenges and many breweries pivot to making hand sanitizer, Tyler Cohen says he thinks his new local craft beer store is faring well, all things considered.

While he doesn’t have months and months of data to compare, he said sales grew 10% from March to April: “That’s a good thing, I guess.”

Cohen, who lives in the Mosaic District, opened the store in February at 2672M Avenir Place near the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station.

Before the coronavirus pandemic prompted the governor to enforce restrictions on businesses, Cohen said 10-15 people would be at the store “at all times” on Fridays and Saturdays.

When businesses started to close or switched to delivery, take-out and curbside pickup services, Cohen said most of his customers initially ordered online, but now he’s starting to see more and more people trickle into the store.

“This last weekend we had to stop people from coming in,” he said.

What the Federal Loan Process Was Like

Receiving a loan during the first round of funding for the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program made a big difference to the store’s finances and ability to keep growing, Cohen said.

“We were getting close where we could probably survive another month and then need to pay payroll out of my own pocket, but as soon as we got that [loan], we were able to breathe a sigh of relief,” he said.

Cohen said M&T Bank was “awesome” with telling him what he would need to submit before the application became available and then communicating with him — even on weekends — about the process.

“It was a pretty quick process,” Cohen said, adding that it took about a week after he submitted the application to hear that he was approved for the loan and then another week to receive it.

Cohen said he’s been able to keep all of his staff employed. One employee, who used to work part-time, now has longer shifts and is covering for another employee, who is over the age of 65 and decided to stay home, he said.

As for rent, the store’s landlord offered delayed rent payments for a few months, but Cohen declined. “I think we can afford rent now.”

COVID-19 Changes 

The store already had a stockpile of personal protective equipment, but Cohen still teamed up with a friend to make homemade hand sanitizer when his supply got low.

“We went from cleaning a couple of times to cleaning all of the surfaces constantly,” he said.

Another change has been allowing people to buy single cans and bottles of beer.

“Instead of buying a four-pack on something they haven’t had, people will try one or two,” he said.

And the store’s growler fill-ups are less popular too now that customers “want to avoid the touching and contact,” he said.

Speeding up some of his longer-term plans has been one of the biggest challenges Cohen’s faced due to the pandemic.

“The online store was something I was planning on rolling out later,” Cohen said. “[The pandemic] forced my hand.”

But, the pandemic did cause one positive thing Cohen’s black dog, Ash, who inspired the shop’s name — there’s now more time for hour-long walks.

“It’s been an interesting time with him because we’ll both get stir crazy,” he said.

Local Community Support 

To get ideas for how to manage the store during the pandemic, Cohen said he and his team talked to local businesses including nearby Inca Social and listened to podcasts about the beer industry.

“The store manager is constantly trying to come up with new ideas,” Cohen said.

Local businesses in the community are trying to show support, he noted.

“I probably buy more beer and take out food to support local businesses,” he said. “We’re trying to help each other.”

Photos via Black Dog Beer Shop/Facebook

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