A longtime business in downtown Wilmington's Central Business District will soon undergo an extensive renovation.
Front Street Brewery, 9 N. Front St., is expected to be closed during the month of January for the work to take place.
"We're going to be refinishing our floors, painting and staining inside the restaurant, redoing some of our seating, some of our tables," said Ellie Craig, sales and public relations manager for the brewery, bar and restaurant, which opened about 26 years ago. "We're going to be re-tiling in front of the bar for the bar area and just doing some serious overhaul in here."
The nearly 10,000-square-foot building dates back to about 1865, according to the brewery's records, Craig said.
"It takes a lot of work to keep our infrastructure at a point where it can sustain the high level of volume that we have, the amount of beer that we're producing and just the sheer number of people that we have in and out of this building," she said.
The restaurant, owned by Thomas Harris, is refreshed to a small extent each year.
"Annually, we typically do some work like this where we'll close down for a couple days and do some minor renovations, repairs, you know, get it ready for a new season," Craig said. "But this is going to be a little more extensive than that and quite frankly necessary because our business model has changed as a result of the pandemic. We're doing things differently in here. So our layout's gonna change a little bit.
"We've had to create an area around the bar where it's easy to pick up and place to-go orders because a lot of people don't want to dine inside the restaurant any longer. They just want to take something to go. And then our third-floor event space that was formerly the Beam Room – we're now utilizing that as a taproom on the weekends so we can kind of spread people out ... versus being packed in like sardines in the downstairs restaurant."
The restaurant did close for about seven days in 2018 because of Hurricane Florence, a September hurricane that resulted in some damage to the facade.
After Florence, "we tried to get open as quickly as possible because there were a lot of linemen, there were a lot of construction workers, stuff like that, that were in town that just needed a place to eat."
A grant from Wilmington Downtown Inc.
is helping Front Street Brewery complete facade repairs, and funds from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund will help with the exterior work.
While the business was approved for more than $1 million from the revitalization fund, "we're not going to use anywhere near that amount, not even close to it, to do these renovations. We had some ideas to use those funds to expand outdoor seating and potentially do some sort of decking on the backside of the building," Craig said, "but ultimately, we decided, 'Let's just stick to improving everything that we're doing in here and how we're operating in here and let's make sure that we're taking care of our staff while we're doing that.'"
Front Street Brewery has 56 employees, and its staff will be involved in the renovation in January.
"They're going to be helping us; we're going to be paying them during this time period," Craig said. "They're not going to be out of work. So we're also very cognizant of how that's going to affect them in an already tough month for them in the Wilmington market, just because we are such a tourist-driven economy."