Home-brewing supply store Home Sweet Homebrew will close its Rittenhouse Square storefront by Labor Day after more than 30 years in the neighborhood.
Without Home Sweet Homebrew, the local craft beer scene would look nothing like it does. The shop has played an important role for regional beer heavyweights like Yards Brewing Co., Victory Brewing, and Dogfish Head Brewery, all of whose founders were early customers of the store. These brewers have grown exponentially; Dogfish, for example, recently merged with Boston Beer Co. in a $300 million deal.
“Changing times, challenging real estate demographics, changing retail landscape, and, yes, the desire to ‘spend more time with the family’” all played a role in the decision to close, owners Nancy Rigberg and George Hummel wrote to customers. The couple purchased the shop, which first opened in 1986, in the early 1990s and have been at it six days a week since.
While the husband-and-wife duo are taking their leave of Rittenhouse, they won’t be shutting down Home Sweet Homebrew. They will transition into a local email-based business (“They ring, we bring,” as Hummel describes it) for an interim period before announcing an as-yet-undisclosed new location. (Interested buyers can contact Hummel and Rigberg at email@example.com.)
“We’re just moving on to something else,” Rigberg says. “We’re taking it on the road, I guess. It’ll be nice to have some time off and be able to do stuff and go places, and go out and drink beer.”
Rigberg and Hummel declined to say exactly what their next move would be. “Hopefully, we will shortly be announcing something very exciting,” Hummel says.
“It just doesn’t make economic sense for us to maintain a storefront downtown,” he says. “We’re not going away.”
That may be a relief to area home brewers, who have long looked to Home Sweet Homebrew for supplies, equipment, and advice.
Yards’ Tom Kehoe, for example, bought his first home-brew kit from the shop around 1988, and was a frequent customer before his brewery took off. The store, he says, is a “staple in the Philly beer community,” and helped inform his early batches of home-brewed beer.
“George was a great wealth of knowledge,” Kehoe says. “He was always someone who you would want to taste your beer and make sure you’re not doing something wrong. Every time we brewed, we went in there first to make sure we had everything we needed. They are Americana for brewing.”
The beer and home-brew supply businesses have changed significantly over the last three decades, Rigberg and Hummel say. Beer-drinkers’ tastes are ever-evolving, thanks to 7,500 breweries in the United States pumping out endless batches of new and different beers. Store space is also more expensive, and the 24/7 nature of retail today is taking its toll.
“When we moved in, there was a parking lot on the corner,” Hummel says. “Now condos are going in starting at $2 million.”
“I guess me and $2 million condos don’t mix,” Rigberg adds. “These are the kind of people who pay other people to make their beer for them, if they’re drinking beer, which is another story. You can only reinvent yourself so many times in a location.”
Other influential home-brew supply stores throughout the nation are also feeling the squeeze of changing demographics and customer preferences. For example, Houston’s oldest home-brew shop, DeFalco’s, will close early next month after nearly 50 years in business. As the American Homebrewers Association told the Houston Chronicle this month, the number of home-brew supply stores nationally is down to 656 this year from a peak of 815 in 2015.
“People are less interested in brewing something that yields them a case or two, because by the time they’ve had two [beers], they’re already bored,” Rigberg says. “That’s not home brew, [which is] ’do something for three weeks and wait and see if it’s any good.’ That’s an eternity.”