Three Rivers Brewery owner says pandemic is keeping him in holding pattern

John Silva says progress needs to be made on fighting virus

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
The future of the Three Rivers Brewery block of businesses in downtown Farmington remains unclear as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, its owner says.
  • The Three Rivers Brewery block consists of the Three Rivers Brewery, the Three Rivers Pizzeria, the Three Rivers Brewstillery Lounge and the Three Rivers Taproom.
  • Most of those businesses have been closed since May.
  • The taproom reopened for to-go beer orders in August.

FARMINGTON — The owner of downtown Farmington's Three Rivers Brewery block of business says he remains undecided about when or if most of his enterprises will reopen, given the uncertainty sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Silva — who owns the Three Rivers Brewery, the Three Rivers Pizzeria, the Three Rivers Brewstillery Lounge and the Three Rivers Taproom in the 100 block of East Main Street — closed those businesses in May. That move was prompted by a decline in downtown visitors brought on by the Complete Streets project's construction and by operating restrictions placed on businesses throughout the state under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's public health orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The taproom reopened on Aug. 17 after completion of the first phase of the Complete Streets construction, selling craft beer on a to-go basis. But the other Three Rivers enterprises have remained closed, leaving the newly renovated district without its biggest after-hours attractions.

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"We're in a holding pattern," Silva said earlier this week, explaining that he is unwilling to move forward to with reopening the kitchen at the brewery for takeout orders under the current circumstances.

A year ago, Silva oversaw a series of businesses that essentially served as downtown's flagship operation. The brewery itself, which features two large dining rooms, had been around for more than 20 years, and had spawned a handful of successful spin-off establishments that employed close to 100 people and occupied most of the block.

The last 12 months have seen much of that melt away. Citing the death of several close friends due to the virus and the layoff of virtually his entire workforce, Silva said this has been the worst year of his life.

More:Three Rivers tap room reopens, but fate of restaurants remains unclear

He is happy the Complete Streets construction is largely finished, eliminating one of the issues that has impacted his businesses. But he said until the virus begins to retreat and San Juan County advances on the tiered business reopening system put in place by the governor, Silva said the other brewery block establishments will remain shuttered.

The first step in changing that would be for San Juan County restaurants to be able to reopen for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, he said. At that point, Silva said he would consider reopening the brewstillery lounge and the kitchen at the brewery. He said the brewstillery is large enough to accommodate a significant clientele even under social distancing requirements, and the brewery kitchen would offer a limited menu for to-go items that could be ordered at the lounge and at the tap room.

"If they got us to 25%, we'd probably do (the reopening of those establishments)," he said.

He was less optimistic about reopening the pizzeria anytime soon, citing the increased labor costs that come with operating a pizza restaurant.

Silva said he was able to obtain some financial relief from a grant that was administered through the city of Farmington. But he said his application for a second round of funding through the federal CARES Act was rejected, and that was disappointing, especially as he keeps paying utility bills for his businesses that have remained closed.

"You can't continue to survive at this rate," he said. "My bills continue to come in."

But he understands he is hardly the only business owner who is facing this situation, citing a recent report that indicated 200 restaurants throughout the state already have closed because of the pandemic.

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"Everybody that's in business is feeling the same pain," he said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.