An Open Letter to Our Friends in the West Reading Area...
It seemed like a good idea at the time. All of the signs were pointing toward it being time for us to open a permanent space in West Reading. We had spent three incredibly fun, exciting, and taxing seasons setting up and tearing down each Sunday at the West Reading Farmer’s Market, meeting great people and getting so much encouragement from the local community. And week after week we kept hearing the same questions… “Where can we find you when the market isn’t in season? Where can I go locally to get your kombucha when I can’t make it on a Sunday morning?” So when the opportunity presented itself to take over the small space at 701 Court Street, one block away from our market stand, we jumped on it and worked to turn the paintball shop turned cupcakery turned barber shop into a place where we could make our kombucha more readily available to the community.
But let’s back up for a minute. All the way back to the beginning. In May of 2015, we started Renewal Kombucha with a dream, a rented corner at a community kitchen, and a $10,000 credit card spending limit. Our goal as a business was to make and sell our kombucha in a way that was good for the body, good for the community, and good for the earth. With those ideals in mind, we were on board for wherever the journey would take us. We had no idea what to expect, but from the first weeks of selling at the Lititz and West Reading Farmer’s Markets, we were met with excitement, eager questions, and lots and lots of encouraging feedback from our wonderful customers. As time went on and interest grew, it seemed like “next steps” presented themselves to us, and as they seemed to make sense for who we are and what we do, we took them. This meant moving out of the community kitchen and into a shared retail space on Broad Street in Lititz. A few months later, it meant expanding into the entire space, as our shop-mate decided to close her storefront and operate from her home instead. We started to get inquiries from local stores and cafes that were interested in serving our kombucha, so we took the step of investing in new equipment and hiring staff members to allow us to expand production and make our products more readily available. And then, in September of 2017, we took what seemed like the next step – opening a permanent location in West Reading.
Excitedly, we started tearing the shop down to the bare walls and turning it into a place that we could feel proud to call our own. We started spreading the news at the West Reading Farmer’s Market – we were going to have a place in town soon! After months of work and many many conversations with the local code enforcement office, we opened our doors in January of 2018. Our Grand Opening two months later was fantastic. The space was packed, and we enjoyed catching up with some old friends while meeting many new ones. However, as time went on, we started struggling to sell enough kombucha out of our new location to cover rent, utilities, and staffing costs. After a year of being open, it became clear that unless things changed quickly, we weren’t going to be able to continue the way we were going.
We could spend a lot of time speculating on why this step didn’t work out for us. The location isn’t very visible to your average passer-by. The timing of our opening could have been better, as we had to wait for approval on codes issues and therefore had several months between the end of market season and our opening. Our hours were and still are limited, as we tried to balance resources between our Lititz and West Reading locations, while struggling through the loss of several key members of the team to bigger and brighter things. On top of that, the kombucha industry has made rapid changes in the last several years, as brands like Pepsi, Molson-Coors, and Starbucks have gotten into the kombucha game, and mass-produced kombucha is readily available at price points that our small brewery just can’t compete with. Whatever the reasons, it started to seem like some decisions needed to be made. Questions abounded: Do we just need to give it more time? Should we spend more on ads in local publications hoping that it would pay for itself in more revenue? Can we find some kind of cool costume to have someone dress up in and wave a sign on the street corner? You know, standard business-type stuff.
As we started to come to the conclusion that shuttering our West Reading location was the right step for us at this time, another much more important question kept coming up: How can we make this necessary exit without abandoning the people who do come in week after week for their kombucha? This is a question that we’re still working through, and our hope is that as we announce this difficult decision and spend time listening to your responses, that the answer will become clear. Do we go back to our weekly setup at the West Reading Farmer’s Market? Can we do a better job of communicating where people can find us locally, at places like Redner’s Fresh Market, Weaver’s Orchard, and Crave Café? Would it be possible to set up a home delivery program where people can choose their flavor and have their empty bottle exchanged for a new one once a week? If you are someone that regularly supports us at our West Reading shop, please send us a message at info@DrinkRenewal and let me know what your thoughts are! We want to listen. We want to keep serving you. We just have to figure out what that will look like moving forward.
This has been tough to write. It’s never fun when things don’t work out as gloriously as they seem like they will in our imagination. But there’s a lot of great stuff going on, too. We have a great team that we can depend on and trust to represent our kombucha well. We’re experimenting with new and exciting flavors all of the time, and I’m more proud than ever of the quality of our product. And in some strange way, even as we close down one shop, I’m confident in the direction that we’re headed as both a small business and as a part of our local community. We’re far from finished, folks. And we look forward to continuing to serve you at our Lititz location, through partnerships with other local businesses, and at community events. We hope to see you all again very soon. Thank you!
Jeremy & Kristi Sayer