Co-op microbrewery renovates old building thanks to its neighborhood renewal co-op

Evan Sallee and his partners at Fair State Brewing (slogan: “Drink like you own the place!“), Minnesota’s first consumer-owned beer cooperative, were ready to open a taproom in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Evan grew up in Bloomington, Indiana before moving to Northfield, Minnesota in 2002 to attend Carleton College. That same year he met both Niko Tonks (now a business partner) and craft beer, and the three have never been the same since. An avid home brewer since well before he could legally drink the beer he made, craft beer has been a part of his entire adult life.

He needed a location that could accommodate brewing, with a storefront that invited people in off the street. That combination was hard to find until they looked at a space on Central Avenue in the city’s Northeast neighborhood.

At first they thought it wouldn’t work. The wooden floors wouldn’t support heavy equipment, and the back rooms were sorely in need of repair. In their experience, problems like these were deal breakers. But here, the landlords had prioritized renting to local entrepreneurs and would pay for the necessary renovations—in part, because they wanted to drink there themselves.

In their experience, problems like these were deal breakers. “Our entire goal in creating it was to make it a central hub for community to get together,” Sallee said. Fair State’s stated goal is to “put the natural connection between brewer and community to work to create something that truly belongs to us all.”

The building wasn’t held by absentee landlords or faraway developers, but by around 200 local people who owned the property collectively. They’re part of the Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC), a first-of-its-kind co-op in the United States that pools members’ money to invest in commercial real estate. They share profits, decision-making, and the community rewards of having, among other things, locally owned shops they want in their neighborhood.

From the NEIC website: The Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC) is a cooperative that allows residents of Minnesota to invest financially to collectively buy, rehab, and manage commercial and residential property in Northeast Minneapolis. We believe that by investing patient capital, actively recruiting local businesses to occupy our property, and supporting those businesses as they grow and thrive, we can bring transformative change to Northeast Minneapolis, one building at a time. Our members share a desire to address pockets of disinvestment and vacancy in our community, and recognize that by pulling together and sharing risk we can do together what none of us could do alone.

Photo of neighborhood brewfest via FairState.coop

See full YES! Magazine article by Christa Hillstrom.

See Fair State Brewing website.

See Northeast Investment Cooperative website.

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