‘Not just surviving, but thriving’: Truckee businesses reimagining themselves in reopening
Special to the Sierra Sun
HISTORY IN EMBRACING CHANGE
Truckee, once ranked the coolest ski town in North America, has the unique history of doing things a little differently, and dealing with COVID-19 is no exception. Businesses are now reimagining themselves, reopening in line with the entrepreneurial spirit that dates back to the mid to late 1800s when Truckee rebuilt itself multiple times to adjust to change. The first continental railroad overcame the emigrant route through the Sierra in 1869 significantly decreasing travel via covered wagon, so the town refocused on logging and making ice instead of services for travelers.
When multiple fires burnt down most of the establishments, Truckee rebuilt with more saloons than hotels to accommodate the loggers and icemakers. The railroad took away the transient population, but the ice, new transportation and mountain water enabled a brewery to be constructed next to the Truckee River.
The Boca Brewing Company, California’s first lager, was able to transport many thousands of ice cold barrels throughout the United States by rail gaining them worldwide recognition. Small towns that didn’t embrace change were left to become skeletons dotting the landscape throughout the West.
— Michelle Gartner
New strategies are emerging as proprietors reimagine themselves and discover rainbows under the coronavirus cloud.
Back in early April, Truckee was designated a hotspot for COVID-19. Infection rates were up to 11 times higher than the rest of California and more than three times that of the rest of the U.S.
Truckee businesses are used to reducing staff during the slow seasons, but the virus hit during winter’s peak when spring breaks are in full swing. Proprietors quickly started doing things a little differently.
Andy and Alicia Barr, owners of FiftyFifty Brewing Co. and Old Trestle Distillery began brewing hand sanitizer and giving it to anyone who just drove by.
Unemployed chef, Jonathan Chapin, is cooking in his home providing food for those who are struggling financially.
The Tahoe Food Hub is donating food to laid-off Food & Beverage employees through their Giving Box Program.
Larissa Martinez, owner of Truckee Love pivoted from making Truckee Love branded clothing and lifestyle products to making face coverings for the love of community.
Heather River, a downtown retail business owner can be found painting rainbows all over town simply to make people smile. [http://theiruntoldstory.com/heather-river/]
As “public houses” reopen they are doing so creatively.
Alibi Ale Works Public House in Truckee opened several days after restrictions were lifted, so they could do it right. The owners, Kevin Drake and Rich Romo, kept 20% of their employees working.
“We should have laid off even more people,” said Drake. “But I was unwilling to layoff our leadership team,” even if it meant losing profits. Their creative juices started working overtime when Drake said he realized, “We can’t keep doing business the way we’ve done it in the past.”
Since they shut down in mid-March Alibi Ale Works stepped up distribution and jumped through all the hoops necessary to sell their award-winning brews in 15 states, from Washington to New Mexico and New York to Florida. With that under their belt, they can now start focusing internationally.
“We were moving so fast for the last five plus years in a strange way it was a blessing for us to hit the pause button and reconnect as a team and figure out what our next five years will look like,” Drake said.
To keep people safe, they built a massive outdoor beer garden at their Truckee location over a large portion of their parking lot. The Town of Truckee loosened building requirements to allow for outdoor seating without having to apply for a permit. Instead of purchasing furniture for the beer garden, they’re supporting another local business and renting it. Creating an outdoor movie theater and renting a blowup movie screen is something else they’re considering.
Dragon Fly Noodle Bowl Pop Up, in partnership with chef Billy McCullough, is an existing practice they’ve scaled up, now offering pop-up meals to go from three local chefs paired with their more than 20 Alibi brews.
On Alibi Ale Works’ new alternate website, customers can buy a friend a beer, pay it forward through the Alibi Employee Relief Fund, place an order for an upcoming pop-up meal and purchase a gift card. They’ve moved many of their regular events online to social media https://www.facebook.com/AlibiTruckee. Visitors can play trivia, partake in the virtual “Beer Geek” happy hour and soon live or prerecorded entertainment will be available.
Tony Furtado was the first musician they sponsored in a live broadcast on KVMR in Portland, he was scheduled to play in May at the Alibi Ale Works Public House in Truckee. With locals itching to get out and shake a tail feather to some live music, it’s not yet clear when that will be an option.
“I have no idea what we’re doing for music,” Drake said. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, we just want to get open then decide what to do. We’re not booking anything right now, we going to be open for a while and wait to see if we’re going to get shut down again.”
Instead of focusing on what they can’t do Drake and his team are doing what they can, mission and vision statements are being revisited, the standard operating procedures are being rewritten and the staff is catching up on repairs and maintenance. There hasn’t been much downtime.
“We want to come out of this not just surviving, but thriving,” Drake said.
Michelle Gartner is a freelance writer who lives in Kings Beach.
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With the economy in California opened back up, businesses throughout the region are finding it difficult to attract employees.