Over the past decade, we have seen plenty of breweries make big moves, whether expanding their main locations, or adding taprooms, or moving into large-scale packaging/distribution. Moving the entire brewing operation from one building to another, however, is a much rarer occurrence.
Boxing Bear did it the most recently, and Bosque and Tractor did the same in years prior. Otherwise, when a brewery puts down stakes, it generally stays there and either succeeds or fails.
Turquoise Trail owner/brewer Sean Lawson did not want to fail, but he also knew that his brewery on East Central could not survive much longer in that spot. So he made the tough call to shut it down while looking to reopen in another part of town.
“We’ve been closed about two weeks now,” Lawson said. “I thought about keeping it open while we find another location, but I was thinking we’re coming up on the slow part of the year, so it doesn’t make sense to put money into the old place while we’re looking for a new place. I might as well just cut my losses here, put my money into something new, and then reopen.”
It was a tough spot to open a brewery, something we noted as far back as when it opened in 2019. Located on Central just east of Juan Tabo, it was not the best neighborhood. Nor was it the best physical space. Parking was limited, and so was seating. The brewery was in a separate building from the taproom on the property.
At one point, Lawson was prepared to close amid the pandemic, but some friends invested money to help him reopen. He still made the decision that the East Central location was not viable.
“Probably about a year and a half ago,” Lawson said was when he decided to start looking for a new home for his brewery. “When we first moved into that location I knew that it was going to be a challenge. That was back in August of ’18. At the time, the mayor was quoted in several places as saying that he wanted to put a lot of money and emphasis into the East Central corridor, essentially make another Nob Hill, if you will. The only thing I ever saw in that area was they landscaped the median and they built a retirement community down next to Home Depot.
“As far as the drug problems and homelessness problem, it just continued to erode. We weren’t even in a bad spot, but we just got the pass-through traffic, got to share in the notoriety of East Central.”
Despite building a small-but-loyal clientele, Turquoise Trail was struggling to make enough money to stay afloat, and the pandemic lockdown did not help matters, nor did things rebound after the lockdown ended in the summer of 2021.
“I saw a long time ago that location was never going to be a big moneymaker, but I was hoping to get it to a point where it could consistently carry itself, without me having to put money in,” Lawson said. “In busier months, it would basically break even, but in slower months, I would put money into it every month. We were coming into the slow part of the year again, and I just decided I was going to move the whole thing, shut it down, take six months, find a new location, reopen, change the liquor license.”
As to where Turquoise Trail is moving, well, as one might have guessed by reading this far into the story without seeing a new address, the situation is still fluid.
“I’m looking at a couple of places, but nothing is in writing, nothing is determined,” Lawson said. “I want to have a lot more space. Our total square footage in the last place, including the brewery, was about 1,800 square feet. It was a challenge. I’m looking to probably do something 3,000 to 4,000 square feet in any location. Do it somewhere there’s ample parking. You can’t park on Central. And then, just try not to be in such a high-crime area.”
Lawson said they were broken into once before opening, with some construction tools the target, but the thief or thieves stashed those nearby and they were recovered. It still cost money to repair the broken window. Later, a window was smashed but nothing was stolen, and some equipment out by the brewery was vandalized. In some ways, Turquoise Trail was lucky not to have anything worse happen, but the general reputation of that stretch of town being so poor, it kept customers away, particularly at night.
The size of the taproom was also an issue. Lawson had hoped to make it a popular place for watching New Mexico United and other soccer games, but that never fully came to fruition.
“I met with the guys from The Curse, they came by a couple times to look at the taproom,” Lawson said. “They liked the beer. I know a lot about soccer and follow soccer closely, so we had some great conversations. I was involved in the soccer community. But, I’m guessing they just thought we were too small to select us for one of their viewing sites. I think we had 40 seats in the entire place.”
In addition to being in a nicer part of town, Lawson said he hopes that a more spacious taproom will be a more welcoming place.
“I’d like to be able to do some stuff that not only gets people there, but keeps people there longer,” he said.
Some of his ideas include pool tables, dartboards, and a stage for musicians. Lawson plays in a local band, so it might be nice to perform in front of his own customers instead of just going to other breweries.
The ultimate goal is to find a bigger space in a nicer neighborhood, while still maintaining the same welcoming vibe and quality beers.
“I’m not planning on being anywhere in that area, anywhere new Central,” Lawson said. “We had a good group of regulars that would come from the neighborhoods around there, but they’re not going to want to drive across town, probably. It will be a lot like a new start. As far as our beer goes, I think we have a really good reputation. That will carry over. We won that award last year from Albuquerque the Magazine (for) best new brewery.”
Lawson promised to keep us up to date on his search for a new location. We wish him the best of luck at keeping Turquoise Trail going in a better spot.
Until then, remember, the breweries need our support more than ever as we head into the slower winter months when the more casual fans tend to dissipate for a while. Raise a few pints in your favorite places this weekend and beyond.