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Gear and Beer

GOLD HILL — River runners who venture into the new Sawyer Station can peruse the rows of Sawyer's signature driftboat oars, check out the newest in stand-up paddleboard paddles and wash it all down with a pint of Southern Oregon Brewery's Killer Rabbit ale.

Instead of being kids in a candy store, customers can be like adults in a craft brewery at Sawyer, which is one of a handful of local outdoor-oriented businesses turning to beer and wine sales as a way to get more people in their stores instead of shopping for their gear online.

Sawyer has been schlepping pints of local beer at the company hub in Gold Hill since June, luring in anglers and boaters from the nearby Rogue River to finish off their days on the water with a cold one, or two.

"You know it's the right move when you see kayakers coming in with their dry suits on and fishermen coming in with their waders on," Sawyer co-owner Zac Kauffman says.

Joining Sawyer in pouring pints is Flywheel Bicycle Solutions in Talent and Northwest Outdoor Store in Medford's Bear Creek Plaza, which is prepping to add a lineup of 10 regional brews to its offerings next month. Visitors can drink at the store's reclaimed Sequoia-wood bar or take it home in growlers.

"It was in my business plan when I wrote it seven years ago, and the word growler wasn't even in existence then, but now it's coming into fruition," Northwest Outdoor Store owner Scott Keith says. "It's a place where people can relax and hang out with each other. I want it to be a community hub for the outdoor community.

"Outdoor gear and beer," he says. "It rhymes."

It's a trend the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is tracking and helping to expand as more businesses look to supplement their regular business with beer and wine sales, OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger says.

OLCC traces the trend back to the spring of 2012, when a new interpretation of OLCC rules allowed an expansion of where sales of carry-out growlers of beer could be sold, Pettinger says. It began when Bend's Stop-N-Go gas station added a growler station, and now more of these so-called "non-exclusive" businesses are getting the so-called "O-licenses" to sell beer and wine, he says.

The licenses cost $100 a year and are relatively easy get, as long as the business remains consistent with city zoning and other local rules, Pettinger says.

Those smaller shops adding beer and wine tend to be in outlying regions around metro areas, with others in urban settings such as in a bike shop six blocks from OLCC headquarters in Salem, Pettinger says.

The shops tend to sport seasonal businesses, and are looking to add beer and wine either as an economic supplement to their regular sales or to create an ambiance for their customers while there, he says.

That's what put lifelong bicycle man Ian Bagshaw in the bar business nearly two years ago, and he doesn't even drink beer.

The owner of Flywheel Bicycle Solutions bought and remodeled a building on South Pacific Highway three years ago, ending up with a bar-like setting overlooking the repair corner of the shop, Bagshaw says.

"We always liked the idea of having customers watch their bikes getting worked on," Bagshaw says. "Some would even say it would be nice to have a beer."

Since Bagshaw added taps close to two years ago, cycling racer Alan Vos has been a regular visitor.

"All our friends hang out here," says Vos, 41, of Phoenix. "Sometimes we'll watch cyclecross on the TV and drink a couple beers.

"It's funny," Vos says. "People will come in to buy a tube or a tire, and they'll do a double-take on the way out. 'Really? You guys sell beer, too?' " 

The shop now pours a half-dozen or more regional brews and even offers wine.

"We're not like a wine bar," he says. "We open a bottle, pour it until it's gone and then open another."

The alcohol sales seem to have opened cyclists' minds to the possibility that Bagshaw's bike shop might be a place to visit even when their ride doesn't need work.

"Instead of just being a place to buy stuff and get things fixed, it's become a place to hang out," he says. "It's a social hub. It's awesome, and it makes my job more enjoyable."

"For me, being in the bar business after 20-plus years, it was really cool to have some new challenges and step out of my comfort zone," Bagshaw says.

It also gives would-be customers a new reason to push away from the computer keyboard and sip a cold one at the local outdoor shop of their choosing.

"You can't just be a place to buy stuff anymore," Bagshaw says. "If you're going to be that local whatever, you need a reason for people to hang out."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Alan Vos of Phoenix has a beer while visiting Flywheel Bicycle Solutions in Talent. - Mail Tribune/Denise Baratta
Sawyer Station in Gold Hill offers paddles, oars, rafting gear and a place to have a beer. Mail Tribune/ Denise Baratta