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Bourbon and beer help revive part of downtown Newport News

Local businesses thrive despite economic turndown
Posted at 9:50 AM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 16:38:41-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Nearly two months ago, Michael Reppert and his partners opened Coastal Fermentory, a brewery on 23rd Street, blocks away from Newport News Shipbuilding and the downtown office buildings.

"Being right next to 20,000 employees at the shipyard, with all of the municipal buildings next to us on the side, we knew this was a good opportunity for us to have a lot of workers in the area that might be coming by," Reppert told News 3.

While still new, the brewery has already attracted small, socially-distant crowds at weekend yoga and food truck events. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the owners sped up a launch of canned beers, sold in to-go packs.

"We have the option for people to order cans online and come do curbside pickup, which is very helpful for people who don't want to come to a tap room and hang out," Reppert added.

While business is already hopping at the brewery, that's just part of the renewal for this part of the city. All one needs is to look next door for proof.

90 proof, that is.

"Put a pandemic and an election year together? People drink a lot," explained Owen King, head distiller at Ironclad Distillery.

A cruel year for many, turned out to be kind for King and his family-owned bourbon business. The King family was one of the first to believe in the potential of this part of the city, taking over a 100-year-old warehouse in 2014.

"There are 20,000 shipyard employees out there. If a quarter of them drink, we'll be in business forever," King said. "It's really nice to know we have the shipyard, we have city hall, the federal courthouse, we have a lot of businesses down here," he added.

Thanks to the pandemic and health restrictions, Ironclad's tasting room may not be fully packed, but you can find bottles of Ironclad on store shelves in six states across the country, with more being added soon.

Back at Coastal Fermentory, Ironclad's success and what else is on tap for this block, including restaurants and apartments, have Michael Reppert and his business partners feeling optimistic.

"Hopefully this strip really progresses, and we can work with the city to get this place to be a real destination location," Reppert said.

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