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Craft brewers: It's hard to find homes for small hops businesses

Centerport resident Paul Dlugokencky will be moving his

Centerport resident Paul Dlugokencky will be moving his garage-based craft brewery, Blind Bat Brewery, to Scudder Avenue in Northport, May 5, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

When Paul Dlugokencky decided to move his garage-based craft brewery into a retail space that would allow him to brew more beer and offer tastings, he knew it would take time to find right spot.

But he thought it would take months, not years.

The Centerport resident looked at dozens of locations, and for many reasons -- including unwilling landlords and unsuitable sewage systems -- couldn't find one.

"I was surprised by people who owned property that was vacant and I'd say 'I will pay you rent, and I will be a responsible tenant,' and they didn't even want to consider us," he said. "I was surprised by the number of times that happened."

A two-year search led Dlugokencky to Scudder Avenue in the heart of Northport Village. He received the necessary village approvals and is now negotiating the lease, he said.

Dlugokencky's challenges typify those faced by other small breweries on Long Island as they follow the local wine industry in moving from small-scale production to larger operations, opening tasting rooms and even restaurants with the signature beverage made on-site.

Brewers face many "moving parts" when they start planning to open their own business -- from finding the right landlord and location, to getting the necessary municipal approvals and financing, said Rich Vandenburgh, co-owner of the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and a board member of the state's Brewers Association.

Vandenburgh said one obstacle is dispelling some of the misconceptions about breweries, "that we are night clubs, saloons, bars and nothing more than a focused drinking place."

"We provide a local product, local jobs, tax revenue and retail focus that attract people who are ready to spend money, which can spill over to other restaurants and shops nearby," he said.

He also said many municipalities do not have local codes or laws that apply specifically to breweries, which he said can slow the approval process.

Northport officials have supported Blind Bat Brewery, named for Dlugokencky being nearsighted and colorblind.

"It's really complementing the other pieces of Northport," said Debi Triola, president of the Northport Chamber of Commerce. "I am not even a beer drinker, and I'm excited."

The zoning board unanimously approved the brewery's application on April 23 with several conditions, including prohibiting outdoor activity, seating, prepared food on premises and live music.

Dlugokencky said he was disappointed with a few of the conditions, including the ban on outdoor seating and live music. "With or without these restrictions, we will be good neighbors in Northport," he said.

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