Ellison Brewing Co. cites decreased downtown activity in decision to close

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Ellison Brewing
Ellison Brewing Co. opened an Indianapolis location, 501 S. Madison Ave., in November 2019. (IBJ photo/Dave Lindquist)

While Aaron Hanson loaded beer kegs into a trailer Tuesday afternoon, he pointed out a sparsely occupied parking lot north of Ellison Brewing Co. in downtown Indianapolis.

Hanson said the lot was filled with cars on a regular basis when he opened Ellison’s first location outside its home state of Michigan in November 2019 at 501 Madison Ave.

But fewer in-office shifts for employees at the nearby Rolls-Royce Meridian Center and Eli Lilly and Co. corporate campus made the pandemic an insurmountable challenge for Ellison. After permanently closing the brewery and restaurant on July 19, Hanson is taking equipment back to Lansing, Michigan.

“We limped along as long as we could,” Hanson said. “It’s not the same town it was in 2018 and 2019. We see good event traffic, but the day-to-day lunch crowd is low.”

Between difficulties in hiring staff and a lack of potential customers seeking food and drinks, it’s tough to turn a profit, Hanson said.

“It’s not just Indianapolis,” he said. “Every big city is dealing with it.”

Ellison moved into a 7,500-square-foot space previously occupied by Tow Yard Brewing, a business that operated from 2014 to 2018. Loft apartments are rented on the upper two floors of the 122-year-old building managed by Judd Investments Two LLC.

Before relocating to Plainfield, Chateau Thomas Winery occupied the building’s first floor in the early 1990s.

Hanson, a former automotive engineer who co-founded Ellison in 2015, said he’s now focused on the financial health of two locations in the Lansing area. To check in on Indianapolis operations, Hanson said he spent eight hours a week on the road.

“When you put the time allocation into perspective, it’s shocking,” he said. “I would lose four workdays a month to driving. I love Indianapolis. I just wish our time here wasn’t 98% during COVID.”

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13 thoughts on “Ellison Brewing Co. cites decreased downtown activity in decision to close

  1. A November 2019 launch of a product that has no name recognition and was unable to secure wider distribution turned out to be the end almost before it began… Never made it there myself, as our city has already had a wealth of delicious local beer options.

  2. Build housing!!!! Nobody even knows about any of these restaurants and breweries! And you need on deck hungry citizens living all above besides and beyond it!!!! More people needed downtown!!!!!! Build build build!!!! And people will see available spaces and move in!!!!! Promote to investors!!!! To come build housing!!!!!!! Plus everything else!!!

  3. Get rid of all parking lots and replace with mixed use housing and parking garage mixed use with retail!!! Then everything is built in!!!! Plus the visitors and word of mouth from residents and their visitors!!!!! Wow!!!! Poor leadership and swag with these nerds!!! Get the right type! People to pursued the investors!!!!!!!smh

    1. Whats funny is this brewery was a literal floor level private parking garage before opening…

    2. Honestly agree with Micah per the usual. In addition to indy not having necessary density in downtown area, this brewery didn’t help itself by not offering its distilled offerings. Breweries are a dime a dozen but distilled spirits takes more skill and craft which would have brought in more customers, unfortunately indiana’s conservative alcohol laws prohibited them from even selling their own spirits due to making them sell their spirits to a distributor then buying them back for a loss to sell to public. Just another hit to downtown indy but hoping indy can turn the corner and build density in market street area and near Southside…not overly hopeful though

  4. It was really in a not-great location. There’s virtually no housing south of the railroad and it’s mostly parking lots. Madison Ave is extremely unpleasant as a pedestrian. The location is cut off from the high population densities of Downtown and Fletcher Place.

    Also, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t think they were that good. The food and beer was okay, but nothing to call home about.

    1. It’s north of 70 and the railway is elevated, but those are “barriers”. Unreal.

    2. What A T. said EXACTLY. This location is “weird” and it always has been. Tow Yard Brewery had terrible beer, and Ellison was marginally better but like already mentioned hardly anyone knew about the establishment. The parking lots are basically useless 90% of the year.

    1. It’s a mainline railroad and privately owned, so the odds of this ever happening are slim to none (especially with the increasing train traffic). The State could actually leverage the site if train service were provided enough funding to be frequent and reliable, providing a steady stream of activity and attracting development.

    2. For the area South of downtown to develop, as well as all of downtown, the rail lines should be preserved. This line is used by Amtrak connecting Indy to Chicago and Cincy. The line runs parallel to the airport. If there was a direct rail connection to the airport, Amtrak service was upgraded, and Union Station was turned into a multi-modal hub, THAT would spur development. Of course, the State won’t allow Marion County to implement any rail solutions, so we’ll continue to be at the mercy of our rural legislature. Case study: Denver. And their Union Station is not nearly as centrally located as ours.