When Mark Grall first decided to open a nanobrewery in downtown Arbutus about a year ago, he thought obtaining the permits and approvals — including county legislation to allow brewing in the downtown area — necessary to open a brewery and tasting room in the Arbutus commercial revitalization district would be his biggest challenge.
"The legislation was actually the smoothest part of the process," Grall said. "Now it's just finding a place."
Grall had originally planned to open New Zagros Brewing Co. in Arbutus by this month.
That is, until he hit a roadblock in his search for a building to house the business.
In April, he received county permission to open a small boutique brewery in the town's commercial revitalization district, he said. Since then, though, he has been unable to find a place to set up shop, and the lack of a location has led him to begin to look elsewhere.
With the help of Arbutus Re/Max New Beginnings owner and local real estate broker Deborah SeBour, who also heads the Arbutus Commercial Revitalization Group, Grall has been searching for space in Arbutus' main commercial revitalization zone for months.
Late last year, he fell in love with the vacant space next to Sorrento of Arbutus on East Drive. But he lost out when it became Sorrento's Cafe.
Since then, he said he has been visiting different locations in the area, but has run into the same problem again and again. Many of the buildings available in the area he wants in — central Arbutus, near all of the town's main shopping and dining — are not in good enough shape to consider beginning his business there, he said.
The situation has become so frustrating that he has begun to look outside of Arbutus for space, he said.
"You can tell there hasn't been a lot of attention" paid to some of the commercial real estate available in downtown Arbutus, he said. "Some of the places are just dirty and not kept up....It's like they've just been neglected."
Cost is a concern, SeBour said, but so far they haven't even gotten that far.
"There's just nothing on the market," that meets the brewery's needs, she said.
"I'm kind of limited, in terms of what's on the market is on the market," said SeBour, who has been with ReMax on Sulphur Spring Road since 1989.
The Arbutus Commercial Revitalization Group is a group a local business owners and a representative from the county's planning board that was formed in November. It has been working since that time to get the word out to commercial property owners that there are county-funded grants they can use to improve their properties.
But "deferred maintenance" is still a problem with some area commercial real estate, SeBour said, though there has been a lot of progress.
County Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District that includes Arbutus, agreed.
"Some of the buildings definitely need significant investment," he said. But, he added, a lot of businesses are interested in Arbutus and the momentum is headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately for Grall, without a space locked down, he cannot move forward with the remaining paperwork and approvals he has standing between him and opening his brewery.
"It just seems like it should be so simple," he said. But "until I have a property, I cannot apply for federal licensing."
Anxious to open, Grall said he has begun looking outside the area. He has expanded his search to include locations off the main East Drive strip. Now, he said, he would be comfortable with anything within about a quarter-mile of the downtown area.
However, he has still been unable to find adequate commercial space. It has reached the point, he said, that he has begun searching for locations outside of Arbutus.
"We really need to find a space in order to get the ball rolling," he said June 4, adding that he planned to check out some options in Catonsville later that day. Though launching the brewery outside of Arbutus would be disappointing, he said, he may have no other choice.
SeBour said she is still holding out hope that she and Grall will find something that works in Arbutus.