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Ronan Cooperative Brewery finds downtown home

The doors opened for a short time on Montana’s first cooperative brewery during the evening of Friday, Dec. 21, allowing people to see the space before renovations begin.

The Ronan Cooperative Brewery has found a home at 400 Main Street in the back section of a large two-story building that was once the Masonic Lodge. Though work still needs to be done before the brewery is ready to open for business, owners and members of the public toured the new digs.

The next phase includes the construction of a bar and seating in the main room, and a brewhouse in back where craft beer will be developed. 

James Myers, co-op treasurer, said enough capital was raised to lease the space for five years. He said the building was chosen because it was both practical and financially feasible. Fundraising efforts are still underway to raise a comfortable $200,000 for construction, equipment and other necessities; $126,000 has already been procured. 

A start date for construction is still on the negotiating table. If everything lines up, including equipment purchases, the brewery might be up and running as early as the summer of 2019, although that date could be a bit ambitious. 

Myers said the project has moved quickly since the idea was sparked in 2016. He said the work began with a public interest meeting and the help of the Lake County Community Development Corporation. 

More than 300 owners have signed up to join the project with a $250 buy in amount for one share. The co-op has room for 1,000 owners. Owners get the right to vote on issues during regular meetings organized by a group of board members. People can also purchase investment stock in the company, but they don’t get more votes.

“Each person can only own one share of common stock and that gets you one vote,” he said. “You can buy more preferred stock but that doesn’t buy more voting rights.”

Myers explained the community-owned project works like many other cooperative businesses that are jointly owned and democratically controlled like the REI outdoor gear store, the Costco bulk grocery warehouse or the Blackfoot technology company.

Once the brewery gets going, the goal isn’t to compete with other businesses, including local bars. Myers said the brewery is about bringing people to Main Street. He invasions people making their way around town and visiting many of the local businesses. 

Brandon Hungerford, co-op president, said the brewery will also utilize local products including barley, hops, grain and water. He also said the project is about building community. “We wanted to have a place where people could come together for fellowship and a good beer -- not just a good beer, a great beer.” 

During the event, a steady stream of people filtered through the front door, packing the open spaces, enjoying conversation and a bit of free beer on tap. If the project’s future viability were measured by the attendance at the open house, it looks to be a success at this point.

Coy Theobalt and Charlie Davis found a few seats next to the fireplace. Curiosity brought them to the event. “I think a cooperative brewery is a great idea,” Theobalt said. “This might be a way to revitalize downtown Ronan. And I think the community really needs this. I mean look how many people are here already.” 

Theobalt said he moved to the area about a year ago and the closed-up buildings in town made an impression on him. “I thought it looked really sad. There is a lot of opportunity here. We have the highway traffic and tourists. We just need something like this to bring people back to Main Street.”

The Ronan Cooperative Brewery can be found on Facebook under the same name or at www.ronancoop.wordpress.com.

 

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