Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Failure of the Micro District

New Republic Brewing Co.'s original location, and later Rio Brazos. (Author's picture, June 2020)

Unlike the other big roads covered on this site, North Dowling Road (or Dowling Road if modern city signs are anything to go by) doesn't have a lot going for it. The two other items on North Dowling Road worth talking about, Former Country Grocery and Wickes Lumber were both covered years ago, and despite some newer development (an RV park, a mini-storage, and a few apartment buildings), North Dowling is relatively empty.

The exception, was, of course, the Aggieland Micro District, an informal name for 11405 North Dowling Road, a collection of warehouses dating back to 1994. The oldest building there is what is now home to Go Dog Customs, but in the early 2010s (and possibly original, as it was there in the late 1990s) was Quality Enterprises. This had the address of 11378 Hickory Road, and was accessed from Hickory Road.

The 11405 North Dowling Road buildings came in-line a few years later, with Unit A and Unit B in one building. Unit B (until fairly recently) was a warehouse for Texas Trading Post, which actually hung out in the links section as part of this website for years because they linked back here (they eventually took out the link, and when I discovered that, I removed theirs). This incarnation of 11405 North Dowling Road did add a connection to North Dowling Road but still had dirt/gravel roads. By 2006, all but the two northern buildings were built, and by 2010, when New Republic Brewing Co. first moved into Unit H, the driveways were paved (with asphalt, and a few years later it became concrete).

New Republic would move to C (and its adjacent space) a few years later, and by late 2015 it had been built up to a small but thriving brewery.

While the Aggieland Micro District was only a modest success, with food trucks and a band playing at NRBC on the liveliest of days, NRBC's attempts to further coordinate with Rio Brazos and Perrine Winery would fail.

The downfall of NRBC would begin would shortly after with the departure of brewmaster and co-founder Dean Brundage leaving for a new venture. An ugly combination of events including the COVID-19 disruption, issues with the landlord, and the departure of co-founder John Januskey would force NRBC to cease production.

When I visited in June 2020 for what I had planned to be my final visit, the brewery was in poor shape. Half of the space had been sealed off (the other half included a makeshift office and lab, and storage space for empty cans and other products). The other half was cleared of tanks, boilers, and canning equipment. Even the loft, where hops and yeast were stored, was being dismantled.

NRBC built up a full outdoor area complete with a stage.

With NRBC fading out and Rio Brazos said to have shut down its taproom, the Micro District appears to be dead with no chance of revival. It's disappointing that the Micro District would only be a footnote, if that, for the history of College Station-Bryan, and return to its original form, a collection of unremarkable warehouses. I suppose it's better that it has some physical memory, as even bigger places have faded away entirely, such as East Orange, Louisiana. Even physical places, of course, hide the time when they were really something. Neither the front office at The Flats on 12 nor the closed-down Tobacco & More suggest they were anything fancy at one time.

The other "Micro District" tenants include Rio Brazos Distillery, a small whiskey/bourbon bottler (largely just one employee, located at Unit H, NRBC's old location), Perrine Winery (a few doors down, opened 2016 after being at Post Oak Village for a few years). The only other retail tenant I can think of there includes Brazos Valley Trash Valet and Recycling at J-1 (opened 2009 after that warehouse section was built). (At Unit F, a business called Absolute Wheel Technologies was operating, but it has since moved out to Highway 30).