Have a Seat at the Tennessee Brewery This Weekend (Maybe For the Last Time)
As I said a few weeks ago, unless you've just returned to Memphis from a lunar trip or haven't used the Internet or social media until now (in which case, welcome!) you're probably very familiar with the events going on at the old Tennessee Brewery building through the end of the month. If so, you can skip the next paragraph.
Volunteers at work getting the TN Brewery ready. Photo courtesy of Perry Sponseller.
The TN Brewery is a big ol' beautiful abandoned building near the South Main district downtown that had its heyday as a brewery in the early 1900s. It's been vacant since the late 1950s and is slated for demolition in August. This spring, several Memphians (read more about them and the project here) put together a series of weekend events called Brewery Untapped where the public could hang out in the downstairs rooms and enjoy beer, food trucks, music, and each other's company.
In order to get the unoccupied building ready for her re-opening, investors called on professionals and also called for volunteers to help clean up, assemble custom-designed chairs, and prep the space for Untapped. Two of the pros were Perry Sponseller and Jason Johns.
This is a photo of Perry's kids "helping out". Photo courtesy of Perry Sponseller. This is my #1 favorite photo from Brewery Untapped, and that's saying something, because y'all have seriously filled up Instagram with #BreweryUntapped.
Perry owns a remodeling company, Sponseller & McGary Construction, Inc., and is the lead carpenter on the TN Brewery project. Jason is co-owner of Old City Millwork and designed the modular chairs and helped manage the project. Here's my interview with them. (Ed. Note: I interviewed Perry and Jason separately, and their answers have been edited slightly for length. If you're interested in seeing the full transcripts, just ask.)
ILM: How did you get involved in the Tennessee Brewery Untapped?
Perry: I got to know Tommy Pacello [of the Mayor's Innovation Team] who called me up one day and we met at the Brewery. He said, "I want you to be in charge of all the volunteers and make this happen", so I helped facilitate and build out the space.
Jason: My friend Perry was the lead carpenter on the project and asked if I would be interested in helping out. There was a need for budget friendly furniture that could be assembled by volunteers. Doug Carpenter is also involved with this project, and I have known him for several years.
ILM (to Perry): What were the biggest challenges in setting up the Brewery for public use and how did you overcome those?
Perry: Letting go of preconceived ideas. We had limited time to flip this beer garden venue. There was no room for micro-managing volunteers. It was important to allow everyone that wanted to contribute to do so and to assist them in making their contributions happen.
I had to come late to a few Saturday morning volunteer sessions because of my son's soccer games. It was so amazing to show up at 11 o' clock on Saturday and see what all these volunteers had accomplished that morning.
This project was not about any one person, owner, investors: it is about Memphis, and this building represents who we are. It's not perfect and therein lies the beauty.
Volunteers at one of the Saturday sessions. Photo courtesy of Perry Sponseller.
ILM (to Jason): How did you get the idea for the chair's design?
Jason: We needed seating for the masses. The chair’s geometry is ideal for relaxing and encourages hanging out. The chair’s design came about from the need to keep costs down and for volunteers to be able to assemble them.
The sides are made from outdoor grade plywood with 2'x4’s for the seat and back. Using our CNC (computer numerical control) machine to cut out the chair sides allows us to get eight chairs from a single sheet of plywood. The CNC machine also pre-drills the holes and makes a space to allow the two sides to be joined together. If someone wants a DIY chair kit, let me know. The plywood sides are $35.00 per set.
The chairs that Jason designed and volunteers built.
ILM: How do you think projects like this one can help Memphis?
Jason: It connects people with history and with other people. It gives people something to talk about and something new to do. It’s investing in good times!
Perry: New urbanism, pre-vitalization, tactical urbanism, or any other buzzword are newer classifications of old good ideas. It's good for us to reconnect with fellow Memphians, participate in volunteering, activism, boot-strapping, and ultimately showing how things can change not by talk, but by doing.
Thanks to Perry and Jason for their time and thanks to Kerry Hayes and Doug Carpenter for their assistance as well.
This weekend is the last official weekend for Brewery Untapped, and the fate of the building is uncertain. I'd make it a point to check it out if you haven't already. There will be food trucks, beer, music, ping pong, cornhole, views of gorgeous architecture, and lots of people.
Tad Pierson also has his tire chairs at the Brewery. They are really comfy! More info on that here.
Read more about the TN Brewery's future and the Untapped project in this enlightening article by Chris Herrington. I also suggest you watch this lovely video about TN Brewery Untapped from Choose 901. Memphian Lindsey Archer has made the suggestion that Justin Timberlake should purchase the Brewery; if you're a fan of Justin, you'll definitely want to read this Open Letter to Justin Timberlake.
Tennessee Brewery Untapped
495 Tennesse Street
Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. (go from noon to 6 p.m. and $1 of your beer proceeds will go to charity)