If any locally owned business deserves a perfect attendance award, it would definitely be the BeerMongers.
Sean Campbell opened the Southeast Division Street bottle shop and bar in 2009, and since then has kept the business going 365 days a year no matter what. So while holidays or inclement weather may force other publicans to close, Campbell and his employees will always be ready to pour you a pint at the BeerMongers, whether it’s Christmas or there’s a foot of snow on the ground.
Naturally, then, he wasn’t about to let the pandemic end his streak of more than 4,200 consecutive days in operation.
“We were committed to doing everything we could do to stay safe and open,” Campbell says. “However, it was such a shock that it took a few days to grasp the reality of the situation.”
If you walked into the BeerMongers on day one, it would have been easy to doubt the business would ever become an institution in the city’s beer scene. Launching the shop on a shoestring budget, Campbell initially began selling bottles out of a couple of coolers in a bare-bones room. Over the next year, he worked to install a bar and carefully curate a tap list—two important features that encouraged people to hang around rather than grab and go.
The next decade saw continued growth: Campbell pumped profits back into the BeerMongers, and by the beginning of 2020, the business had earned a well-deserved reputation as a good beer bar with a dedicated clientele.
And then came the pandemic. On St. Patrick’s Day of last year, the BeerMongers was forced to become a bottle shop only. Customers were advised to choose carefully but quickly from the coolers, keep their masks on and adhere to social-distancing protocols. But even with all of those sudden changes, it didn’t take too long to get into a new rhythm.
“Our business has always been a hybrid beer store-beer bar, so it wasn’t too difficult to shut down on-premises business,” says Campbell. “We discounted draft beer to go and rearranged the store to get rid of all seating. I think we all just plowed ahead as best as we could. We were amazed at the generosity of our customers who made it worthwhile to be open every day.”
That loyalty meant the shop never had to close completely, but revenue diminished appreciably. However, Campbell does remember that customers came in droves for certain packaged items, like fresh deliveries of super-hoppy IPAs and rare offerings.
“Block 15 Sticky Hands,” Campbell says. “Another beer that was a savior during COVID was finally having cans of Pallet Jack and other Barley Brown’s beers.”
When Campbell finally began to plan to reopen in-house service, he had one main thought: “I want people to feel well.” He figured the best way to accomplish that was to convert half of the parking lot into a patio, moving tables and chairs under a canopy with all sides open to promote air circulation. It worked, at times better than expected.
There were a few snafus, though. That crazy little snowstorm last February? It took down the tent. Regulars showed up anyway, shoveled the pavement and erected a new covering in a little over an hour.
“Early on the morning of Feb. 13, I got a text saying it was crushed by ice,” says Campbell. “By the time I arrived at 11 am, there were over 15 volunteers tearing the tent down. I was amazed so many people came out in those conditions to help. We had survived shutdowns, fires and now ice with the support of our community. Despite the frigid conditions, that week in February was one of our busiest weeks of the whole year.”
If the soul of a good bar is its regulars, the BeerMongers is brimming with spirit. Campbell still has concerns, but he’s pretty sure his patrons will help him get through just about anything.
“I am anxious about the future,” he says. “Our outdoor seating area is temporary, and the landlords have expressed their desire to return it to a parking lot. There are a lot of unknowns, however, the beer culture is strong in Portland. Our community has been supportive through all the various changes, and we know they will be there for the BeerMongers in the future.”
Get It Here: The BeerMongers, 1125 SE Division St., 503-234-6012, thebeermongers.com. Noon-9 pm Sunday-Tuesday, noon-10 pm Wednesday-Saturday.