CHARLESTON — Expanding a business is like growing a new plant from a cutting. It might be hard to disrupt whatever it is you'd planted in the first place, but if the time is right, and the plant is strong, you can end up with a flourishing garden.

For Aaron Rote, co-owner of Rivesville-based Short Story Brewing, the opportunity to open a new taproom in Charleston indeed came at the right time.

“We came down here and we were kind of interested in seeing what the scene was like down here," Rote said. "Then we started to talk to some people here, some other business owners, and it’s just a really business-friendly area. [The city] did a lot to try and help us get through the door.

"We found this great location, it just seemed like the right move at the right time. It felt like they wanted us, we were interested in expanding and it was just a good situation for everybody.”

Rote and his fiancé moved to Charleston in order to oversee the new space, departing from their original location in Rivesville, where they'd operated for nearly six years. Uprooting themselves from their primary home — though they do have a small taproom in Deep Creek, Maryland — Short Story Brewery's Charleston location opened up on Black Friday weekend last year, a fortuitous time for the craft beer spot.

"The fact that our opening weekend was Black Friday, they were doing the Holly Jolly Brawley down here, just a couple doors down," Jamie Ferrell, a manager at Short Story since its opening, said. "They had the street blocked off, they had a nice Christmas celebration, different Christmas trees that local businesses had decorated. Opening during a big celebration, that brought a lot of people in and spread the word that we were here.”

Short Story Brewing is not alone in their success in the craft beer scene. In fact, they have multiple neighbors within shouting distance.

Fife Street Brewing and Bad Shepherd Beer Company complete the trio at the center of what the city of Charleston has officially designated "Brewers Row," a portion of downtown Summers Street recognized for the bustling breweries populating the two-block stretch.

"People start to think of it as kind of a brewery district," Rote said. "A rising tide raises all ships, right? The more businesses there are on the street, the better everybody does, and we’re definitely seeing that.”

Summers Street and the surrounding area also features a selection of local bars and restaurants, and "Brewers Row" along with other breweries in other parts of Charleston have raised the reputation of the city enough to be featured for its beer scene in Forbes magazine and other media outlets.

Short Story has found themselves at the heart of it all, as the newest of the trifecta of Summers Street breweries. The three companies enjoy a congenial relationship, going back all the way to Short Story first coming to town.

“The owners of the brewery next door [Fife Street Brewing] are kind of responsible for us being here," Rote said. "They brought us in and they showed us this location. It’s a very friendly relationship. If you go into the three breweries, we kind of all have our own vibe going on and we compliment each other very well. It’s just a really fun scene, now that you have three breweries right next to one another."

Joining forces has benefited all parties, who embraced the city's increasing association of the breweries as a unit.

“A couple months ago they started having meetings with the Charleston Visitors Bureau, and representatives from all three breweries decided to come up with the ‘Brewers Row’ idea," Ferrell said.

"Brewers Row" has become a marketing tool to attract patrons as well.

“We’ve created a little “Brewery Passport,”" Ferrell said. "For every beer that you drink at each place, you get a stamp, and after nine stamps, three beers at each place, we’ve created a logo glass that has the “Brewers Row” logo and all three of our logos on them. Once you drink all nine beers, you get a free glass at the end.

"That’s been really popular, they printed off something like 1,500 passports and they’ve ordered close to 1,000 glasses. Here, we must have already handed out more than 50 glasses, about two cases. It’s been really great, we just announced that probably two and a half weeks ago. It’s been really popular.”

The three breweries, including Short Story, have been able to co-exist in part due to the differences between the three. Rote said that the three each have different feels, and for Short Story's part, they aim to provide a comfortable, cozy environment.

“I think ours is just a little bit more laid back, a relaxed environment," Rote said. "We moved down here, so we kind of wanted a tap room that was a place where we could escape to. There’s lots of floral elements, we keep the lighting pretty low, we keep the music pretty chill. I think people like to come here and just relax. It’s a good date-night spot. It kind of reflects our home brewery but it’s also kind of an evolution of that feeling, being able to walk in and immediately feel very comfortable.”

"If you want to bring a laptop in, have a couple beers while you do some work, or just hang out, we’ve even got a little selection of board games," Ferrell said. "People can just come in and hang out, it’s why we kind of went with the color scheme that we did for the walls. A little bit of a darker feel, warm lighting, keep the music the same way, just making a fun hangout spot, a place to relax and have a beer.”

And, as with much within the service industry space, it's as much about the people as the place.

“If I were to describe Short Story, it would definitely be a laid-back place," Paul Dunham, a bartender at Short Story, said. "But a space that invites a lot of opportunities to meet new people and make new friends.”

At first, the people frequenting Short Story and other craft breweries were enthusiasts, but with awareness increasing around the city, the burgeoning microbreweries are becoming mainstream.

“I think initially, a lot of craft beer people were aware that we were here, so we were immediately seeing that craft beer crowd," Rote said. "Now I think we’re starting to expand and see a larger crowd, people who might not be as familiar with the craft beer scene.

"We’re getting ready to add a kitchen here, our friend who owns Lefty’s Pizza in Morgantown is going to open a second location here. It’s going to be great, you’re going to have yet another North Central West Virginia business moving down here, and we’re excited to be part of that partnership with them. It’s a good way to represent the businesses from the northern part of the state down here.”

For Short Story Brewing, the thrill comes in both directions — from bringing their own local flavors to the heart of West Virginia, and from fitting into their new home.

“It’s just nice to be part of a brewing scene in Charleston," Ferrell said. "For so many years, there was just one brewery in Charleston, and you had all these other breweries throughout the state. It’s really nice to have two new places open within a year of each other.

"I think that having more options, it’s not really direct competition. I think all three of us feed off each other and bring in more business in general. Our goal is to make Charleston a craft beer destination that people want to come out to.”

Charleston is gaining the reputation that Ferrell and Rote desire, and perhaps not by accident. Short Story and other local businesses have gotten the royal treatment from the city in planting new roots in a new market.

“We were worried about that initially, going outside of Rivesville and being left to our own devices," Rote said of Short Story's expansion. "In cities, you’re dealing with a lot of city regulation, but this city is so hungry to bring in new small businesses that they kind of helped us to clear those hurdles. They weren’t something that was really in our way, most everybody involved in the government was trying to help us, they wanted us to be here. It really wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it would be.”

“I think what’s going on in Charleston, it’s probably a good model for how other cities in the state should think about pulling small businesses in and working with people to help them flourish.”

Though the day-to-day keeps them on their toes, Rote said that all is calm as far as expansion plans go. If they wanted to keep sprouting up in other locations, Rote says they would have to increase production.

“We’re pretty much operating at full steam right now. Any potential expansion would probably be on the brewery side.”

It seems for now, Short Story will focus on growing tall right in the middle of what they hope can become a brewing destination nationwide.

Reach Nick Henthorn at 304-367-2548, on Twitter @nfhenthorn_135 or by email at

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