Brewing beer in Billings is a great business if you want to dodge some of today’s economic darts.
Two of five brewers in Billings have launched separate and ambitious expansion plans for the former Hines Auto Supply buildings on First Avenue North and North 30th Street.
In 1994, Dennis Himmelberger started Himmelberger Brewing Co., and has been brewing beer for wholesale at a home on Custer Avenue for 17 years. He recently purchased a building at 3008 First Ave. N., with six times the space: plenty of room for a larger brewery, his first taproom and a coffee shop.
Fellow brewer Tim Mohr, who runs Angry Hank’s Tap Room at 2405 First Ave. N., bought a lot and a building at 20 N. 30th St. that nearly touches Himmelberger’s property.
Both are tackling major renovations of the buildings, one constructed in 1915.
“I threw out my business plan two years ago. We far exceeded anything we planned on doing,” Mohr said, who started Angry Hank’s taproom and small brewery five years ago in a small garage at 2405 First Ave. N.
By moving six blocks to First Avenue, Mohr will have 2½ times more space.
Himmelberger will have nearly six times the space. He said he’s been too busy with other business interests and his four-term career in the Montana Legislature to expand, but now is his chance. The coffee shop will be a new retail adventure.
“The thought there is that the coffee shop’s better hours are probably what the brewery’s hours aren’t,” he said.
No food service is planned now because two restaurants are right across the street, Himmelberger said.
“I’m all excited. It will be a great deal for both of us,” said Bill “Mac” MacIntyre, who owns Pug Mahon’s Irish Pub and Guido’s Pizzeria.
Both entrepreneurs struggled with finding a location with enough parking and with protecting the classic brick walls once they settled on the Hines property.
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Mohr bought an empty lot for parking that is set back from First Avenue. It was the home of Hi-Mountain Recreation before the building was destroyed by fire in 2006.
Architect Alex Tommerup at AT Architecture Inc. in Billings Heights said Mohr wants to keep the brick wall look, but modern building codes mandate that one side be insulated so the building will be more energy-efficient.
“He’s trying to leave the place as original as possible on the inside, but meet city codes,” Tommerup said. “We’re saving the brick structure, but you have to cover up one side or the other.”
Mohr said he hopes to be open next June, but called that a “wild guess.” The current Angry Hank’s will stay open, maybe for a couple more years, he said.
Mohr and Himmelberger both looked for land or buildings outside the downtown area, but came back due to parking. The city lets businesses count street parking, so they need smaller parking lots downtown.
“You try to find a spot in the Heights or West End with that kind of parking and they are very hard to find,” Himmelberger said.
Architect Scott Attwood and High Tech Construction are working on Himmelberger’s plans and he hopes to open after Jan. 1.
Calling these properties “wonderful old buildings,” Himmelberger said he wants to preserve as much of their character as possible, including the transom over the door. But, like Mohr, he has to choose between covering the inside or the outside walls.
Neither brewer would say what they paid or what they plan on spending to remodel the buildings.
Billings real estate agent Charlie Hamwey also said he couldn’t disclose the price the two brewers offered Hines Enterprises, but said the deals are filling important commercial property that has been vacant for five years.
“It’s going to be a great redevelopment project for the downtown Billings area,” Hamwey said. “There are a few other white elephants downtown, but these are two of the last buildings that really need to be developed.”