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Expanding their horizons

JACKSONVILLE — It takes something beyond the usual bill of fare for businesses to achieve staying power in this community of 2,800.

The city was designated  a U.S. National Historic Landmark a half-century ago. In the passing decades eateries and drinking establishments have come and gone, becoming history themselves. In the hearts of some, however, possibilities remain.

Chris Dennett, Wally Fipps and Tony Hernandez see opportunity to succeed in this revived mining town. The owners of Beerworks Bar and Bottle Shop in Medford opened a second location here in the Orth Building on South Oregon Street this week — which is, appropriately enough, Beer Week for the Medford area.

"We saw it as more of an expansion of opportunity than deliberate expansion," Dennett said. "No one else was doing it quite like what we do out here. We have a template that worked in Medford and we think it will work here."

Besides that, Dennett said, there is a homecoming component — he attended Jacksonville Elementary School and his first job was at the Bella Union.

The strong, such as Jacksonville Inn, Bella Union, Good Bean and La Fiesta, have endured. Before Beerworks No. 2, Adit Public House occupied the space and before that, Corks Wine Bar and Bottle Shoppe.

Droves of visitors pour through Jacksonville during tourist season, but when school's back in session, Britt's final encore is performed and Oregon's drizzle fills the wintry air, shop owners face new challenges.

"This is a place where businesses are extremely dependent on tourist traffic and tourist traffic is very seasonal," said Brad Bennington, a member of the City Council. "Any shopkeeper in town will tell you revenues are inconsistent and there is a lot of maintenance that goes into those buildings. It eats a lot of money, so it's tough deal. I think Beerworks might be successful because there is more than one location and their revenue is not dependent on this one particular store."

And they should get a boost from Medford Beer Week, which opens its taps today at breweries and pubs throughout the area and continues through June 10. A number of events are planned for both Beerworks shops.

"There is method to our madness, we had to definitely open by Beer Week, because we made promises to breweries," Dennett said. "With the focus on beer at that moment, why would you not launch during that week?"

To that end, the trio has been immersed in readying the establishment.

"There have been lots of surprises, 18 hours straight working on three or four hours of sleep every night,"  Hernandez said. "So it's been a long journey."

Hernandez will manage the Jacksonville operation with Nile Johnson managing the Medford location.

"What we hoped to bring to Jacksonville was a lot more of the culture of beer," Hernandez said. "There's a lot more out there than just what you kind of see around. We definitely take a lot of time going to Portland, Corvallis and Bend and bringing beers down here just to introduce people to the wonderful world of beer."

For Beerworks' purposes, Jacksonville is different market and while there may be a degree of overlap, Dennett thinks the clientele will differ.

"We wouldn't do something that cannibalizes ourselves, we wouldn't put up another Beerworks in Medford," he said.

Dennett sees Beerworks as complementary rather than competition to Boomtown Saloon, J'Ville Tavern and Bella Union.

"Hard liquor and food are part of their business plan," he said. "We're not doing food and spirits. We can add something to the Jacksonville experience without stepping on anyone's toes. I don't think we're directly competing with anybody, but there is definitely good synergy."

The Jacksonville establishment is smaller than Medford, serving 35 to 40 people. While Medford can handle 600 beers and offers 12 taps, Jacksonville is limited to 100 to 150 beers and 12 taps. Suffice to say, in keeping with the Beerworks' philosophy, most of the beer on the premise won't readily be found elsewhere in town.

Beerworks doesn't serve food, but it doesn't discourage patrons bringing in takeout or their own eats.

"La Fiesta, Thai House and Bella Union are within a hundred yards," Dennett said. "We're a BYOF — Bring Your Own Food — place."

Hours are still up in the air.

"It's easier to add time than to say you're going to be open all the time and then pull out on Mondays. ... Basically, you create something and hand it to the public, then the public tells you how they will use it. You have to be nimble enough to adjust to how the public uses you."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31 

Medford Beer Week will feature brews of all natures at places all over town. Mail Tribune file photo
Tony Hernandez helped open Beerworks Wednesday in downtown Jacksonville, just in time for the start of Beer Week. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta