How Breweries Can Rejuvenate a City

by Maximilian Eyle

Regular readers of my column will know I generally write about marijuana and its complicated role in our society. It is a rich topic, and one that is close to my heart. But this month we will be discussing something different, albeit another psychoactive substance: beer. Though we take it for granted as a diversion or even a vice, it has been a driver of civilization through most of human history. The first beer was brewed some 7,000 years ago in the Middle East, and since then it has been a constant companion to much of the world. It provided calories and a safe source of hydration when clean water was scarce. Today, its role is different but no less important. Even in the 21st century, beer has emerged as a powerful economic driver.

James Fallows wrote an article for The Atlantic recently entitled “Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed”. Alongside more conventional descriptors like civic engagement and strong educational opportunities, the presence of craft breweries was the most consistent marker of a successful city. Coincidence? As it turns out, breweries are very expensive to build. They require a strong investment in equipment, experienced employees, and a large space. Due to the high startup cost, it is common to open the brewery in a less prosperous part of town where the rents are lower. Most craft brewery owners just cannot afford to build a brewery and place it in the city’s downtown. This means that a previously abandoned warehouse or storefront is now transformed into a hip and attractive business. Jobs are created, a social center is born, and depending on the scale of brewing – tourists may even start coming to try the local beer.

Much like the marijuana industry, brewing is one of the only areas of manufacturing that is actually growing. Also like marijuana, beer was prohibited not so long ago. During alcohol prohibition, crime rose and corruption reigned. When it was legalized, taxed, and regulated, the criminals who sold it went out of business. In my city of Syracuse, we have several breweries which have done a lot to improve downtown. Some have even named specific beers after the city, like the Middle Ages Syracuse Ale. They have added to our local culture and employed many of our citizens. I would love to see more craft breweries open their doors in Syracuse, particularly in the struggling parts of town. Such an investment could be the tipping point toward neighborhood revitalization and would go far to making Syracuse a hub of the booming New York State beverage industry.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has experience working in the drug policy field and writes about it every month for CNY Latino. Maximilian learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.