Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Preserving History With Alcohol

Everyone knows you use alcohol as a preservative for food. We have a new venture coming to Norristown that hopes to preserve history as well.

Some of you also know that last year, due to a lack of volunteers, the Humane Fire Company (founded in 1852) was forced to merge with Norristown Hose Company, leaving the Humane Fire House at 129 East Main empty. The firehouse was built in 1888.

This past week, Five Saints Distilling (John George and Louis "Jay" Rachelli) came forward with their plan to convert the firehouse into a micro-distillery that will produce aged bourbons, whiskeys, vodka and other spirits. The top of their homepage on their website states that they'll be opening in fall of 2015. Toward the bottom, it says January 2016.

In the next year and a half, though, Five Saints claims that they will host community events and, to celebrate key milestones in the construction process, they'll give tours of the distillery-in-progress.

Best of all, they intend to restore the old firehouse and preserve the historical memorabilia left behind, like the original fire pole. Once the distillery opens, the firehouse will be open for tours. Five Saints also plans to sell merchandise with their logo and proceeds from that will help support the Norristown Fire Department.

The project will need $100,000 of public funding in the form of a job creation grant from Federal Community Development Block Grant funds, which will provide the financing for distillery equipment. In exchange, Five Saints must create at least 3 full-time jobs.

I think most of Norristown tends to hold their breath when projects like this--especially those using public funding--are announced. We've had so many go bust in the last couple decades. No one wants to get their hopes up too high. But, though Five Saints website isn't fully functional yet, they do seem to support Norristown and our revitalization efforts. A few things worry me--that there's no information about the owners on their website at all, that there's no way to contact them by phone (one number given is directory assistance, another is an international exchange that seems to be connected to a place in Albquerque, NM), and that their website is vague and has conflicting information. I'm hoping this is all just organizational growing pains, but I really would like to see bios of the owners, at least.

If all goes according to plan, Five Saints should bring jobs and a few tourists to town, as well as adding to our tax base, plus be a delightfully unique addition to our community. I wish them all the luck in the world and hope they have the business sense to pull it off.

Their first event will be June 13th, when Humane Fire Company publicly transfers the ownership of the firehouse to Five Saints. No time was given for the ceremony. I'll let you know when I find out.

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