Posted by: bluesyemre | January 22, 2019

Where the thirst for #Literature meets the thirst for #Beer

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INDIANAPOLIS — The first thing one notices about Books & Brews is that it’s off the beaten path, tucked into an unassuming strip mall in a cluster of industrial-supply stores and a sprawling outpost of The Home Depot near 96th Street on the far north side of Indianapolis. The second thing you may notice upon entering the shop is how inviting it feels, with its bright, bookshelf-lined walls, clusters of sturdy wooden tables and racks of board games — and that’s before you get to the back of the store with a craft-beer taproom, small stage and even more packed bookshelves.

“I started off here mainly because as a start-up, no one will lease to you,” said Jason Wuerfel, 38, the founder and president of Books & Brews, during a recent chat at the company’s “mother ship” location. But the lack of foot traffic hasn’t stopped his establishment from becoming a popular gathering spot.

In addition to its titular fusion of bookshop and brewpub restaurant, Books & Brews is a de facto community center, drawing crowds to trivia contests, fund-raisers, tabletop game gatherings and literary events; Charlaine Harris, the author of “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” series, dropped by for a book signing in 2017. The stage in the back serves as a performance platform for music jams, open-mic nights and readings.

“Our tagline is ‘a place for people without a place’ and it’s a very personal mission to me,” Wuerfel said. As an English major and member of the University of Michigan’s baseball team during his college years, he said he often felt he was “too jocky” for the nerds and too nerdy for the jocks. “I felt like someone who didn’t have a place.”

His parents owned and operated hotels, as well as an independent minor-league baseball team, in Traverse City, Mich. In working with them, Wuerfel got a close-up look at entrepreneurship, customer service and the nuts and bolts of running a business. A later stint as a stay-at-home dad gave him the bandwidth to tinker with making his own beer, and he began to develop an idea for just the kind of place he wanted to create.

“The fundamental flaw of the bookstore is that it’s designed to be quiet and not let people connect to each other,” Wuerfel said. “When you encourage people to walk around, and you have books and board games and music that breathes life into spaces, you naturally provide the framework for social engagement.”

Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that began in 2013 raised about $17,000 from more than 150 backers. To help keep costs down, Wuerfel taught himself carpentry and built most of the store’s wooden furniture himself.

Books & Brews opened in March 2014, and Wuerfel’s vision of a place for people to “read, drink, converse” brought in the customers. He expanded his original footprint before the end of the first year to 4,500 square feet from 2,250 square feet by leasing the empty warehouse next door. “There were nights when I’d just run to Home Depot and buy folding chairs so people would have someplace to sit,” he recalled.

The books for sale all around the store are mostly used, taken by donation and sold for $3 each. A corner nook of children’s books and a retro video-game setup await younger visitors. Ten percent of used-book sales are given to Indy Reads, an area organization that promotes literacy.

The store also offers a rack of new books for sale at the cover price, including titles by Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut Jr., whose maternal grandfather was Albert Lieber, a well-known local brewer in his day, and featured in Vonnegut’s autobiographical “Palm Sunday.”

[Read the 1981 Times review of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage.”]

As for the brews, the company has its own line of craft beers, sporting playful names like Shogun Soba Ale and Charlie and the Chocolate Stout. Customers have even dubbed some of the beers — a librarian came up with “Nancy Brew and the Hoppy Boys,” the company’s popular pale ale.

The Books & Brews mother ship is not alone anymore. Wuerfel expanded and franchised the business over the past few years to eight other locations (so far) around central Indiana and now partners with Flat12 Bierwerks to produce his beer.

He credits much of his business model’s success to warm customer care and creating situations for guests to feel like they belong. “One hundred percent of the people who are here on any given night are here because they purposefully came for Books & Brews,” he said. “That is true destination appeal and really makes the atmosphere fantastic.”

J.D. Biersdorfer is the Times Tech Tip columnist and the Book Review’s production editor. “Book Territory” is an occasional column on the bookstores we love.

Follow J.D. Biersdorfer on Twitter: @jdbiersdorfer.

Follow New York Times Books on Facebook and Twitter (@nytimesbooks), sign up for our newsletteror our literary calendar. And listen to us on the Book Review podcast.

https://www.booksnbrews.com/


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