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Brew Practitioners in Florence ordered to shutdown by state citing COVID-19 reopening plan

MassLive.com logo MassLive.com 7/18/2020 By Michelle Williams, masslive.com
a group of people in front of a house: Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015. © Michael S. Gordon / The Republican/masslive.com/TNS Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015.

A popular Western Massachusetts brewery received a cease and desist order from the Massachusetts Department of Labor accusing the business of operating in violation of Massachusetts COVID-19 orders.

a stack of flyers on a table: Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015. © Michael S. Gordon / The Republican/masslive.com/TNS Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015.

Brew Practitioners, a craft beer brewery in Florence, received the letter on Friday and was ordered to shut down immediately.

Upon receiving the letter, majority owner Tanzania Cannon-Eckerle and co-owner and head brewer Joe Eckerle closed their patio and indoor seating for the weekend to determine their next steps.

“Is this reserved for black brewery owners or just female brewery owners. I can’t figure out which of my labels has upset the health department so much,” Cannon-Eckerle wrote on the Brew Practitioners Facebook page regarding the cease and desist letter. “Especially since I just passed their Covid-19 Safety Inspection with flying colors.”

a group of people sitting at a table with wine glasses: Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015. © Michael S. Gordon / The Republican/masslive.com/TNS Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015.

Speaking with MassLive, Cannon-Eckerle expressed concern that her business was being held to higher restrictions by local health authorities than are outlined in the Massachusetts reopening plans.

Brew Practitioners opened on Main Street in Florence five years ago with half its space dedicated to brewing operations and half featuring a taproom with indoor seating. One of the smallest breweries in the region, the business has a maximum capacity of 49 people inside and seating for about 25 on its patio.

a sign in front of a brick building: Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015. © Michael S. Gordon / The Republican/masslive.com/TNS Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015.

After three years of operation, the business was asked in 2018 to seek a retail food permit to accommodate brewing beer on site and the sale of small food items, such as chips and pretzels.

a group of people in a room: Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015. © Michael S. Gordon / The Republican/masslive.com/TNS Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015.

What felt like an unnecessary permit at the time initially was considered a blessing upon viewing the state’s reopening plan.

“I saw the perameters for Phase 2 reopening and low and behold, I have a retail food permit, it’s sticking on my wall,” Cannon-Eckerle said, who - in addition to serving as a co-owner of the brewery - is a an attorney with experience in labor and employment law.

The Massachusetts reopening plan features four phases: “Start,” “Cautious,” “Vigilant” and “The New Normal.”

In the “start” phase, construction, manufacturing and places of worship were among the first to allowed to resume, with significant restrictions to encourage social distancing. Doctors and dentists were allowed to start seeing patients again and beaches reopened on Memorial Day.

In the “Cautious” phase, retail, outdoor dining, hotels and other industries were allowed to reopen as early as June 8 under strict restrictions.

The “Cautious” phase, or Phase 2, was divided into two parts. The first part allowed outdoor dining to resume. Indoor dining was allowed again on June 22.

Restaurants are required to socially distance tables at least six feet apart and seat parties of no more than six people with no people seated at the bar. Face coverings are required for all workers. Customers may remove face coverings while seated at tables.

a group of people sitting at a table with wine glasses: Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015. © Michael S. Gordon / The Republican/masslive.com/TNS Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015.

While initially bars were categorized as allowed to reopen in Phase 3 of the state plan, they were moved to Phase 4, joining nightclubs as among the last to reopen. The state will enter Phase 4 after a vaccine and/or treatment for COVID-19 is developed.

a group of people in a room: Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015. © Michael S. Gordon / The Republican/masslive.com/TNS Grand opening of Brew Practitioners, LLC brewery and taproom in the Florence section of Northampton Saturday. October 10, 2015.

Brew Practitioners argues that the business is not a bar that only serves drinks, but brews on site in addition to serving small food items. The business recently added popcorn, homemade salsa and chips to its menu.

“I bought a popcorn machine. I’m creating food on site. There’s nothing in the regulations that says I need to create a gourmet meal,” Cannon-Eckerle said.

a group of people riding horses on a city street: Brew Practitioners seen here on grand opening day in 2015. © Republican file photo/masslive.com/TNS Brew Practitioners seen here on grand opening day in 2015.

The more popular option for customers is to order meals from Cafe Evolution, a vegan cafe with which the brewery shares a parking lot, or the pizza shop across the street which offers table service delivery for Brew Practitioners’ customers.

Cannon-Eckerle said they’ve attempted to partner with food trucks to offer additional food options on site, though believes it’s an unsustainable option for breweries, especially one as small as hers.

“I can’t control if they come or go or if they get a better offer,” said Cannon-Eckerle, who said they’ve had food trucks lined up only for them to rebook for larger breweries.

If Brew Practitioners isn’t allowed to welcome customers back, Cannon-Eckerle fears her business won’t survive. She estimates their canned beer sales make up about 5% of their business.

She has appealed the cease and desist with state officials. “I can sit down and be quiet and wait for someone to tell me I can’t run my business or I can actively fight to keep my business open.”

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