A new $1 million microdistillery is expected to open in the heart of downtown Caro by the end of 2016 – and the owner has big plans to infuse the area with new jobs, money and entertainment.
Scott Romain, 29, said he plans to open Thumb Rum & Brew Co. Inc. by the end of the year at 119 N. State Street in Caro (most recently the location of Anna’s Attic).
“My dream for this is to be the anchor of downtown Caro,” Romain told The Advertiser.
The plan, he said, is that Thumb Rum & Brew will become an entertainment destination, create almost 30 new jobs, and put Michigan’s Thumb and Caro on the map by selling bottles of rum wherever possible – including globally.
“This is for the community,” Romain told The Advertiser. “This is not a venture to make money…a lot of businesses in this town take stuff away. I want to bring stuff in.” “Let’s sell a product not just in this state, let’s sell it around the world and bring the money back here.”
The one thing Romain said Thumb Rum will not be is anything close to a traditional bar.
“The last thing this town needs is another bar,” he said. “We do need something to bring money in.” (story continues below picture)
Microdistilleries, also called “craft distilling” or “craft distilleries,” represent a growing industry.
An April 2015 report from the American Distilling Institute said there were 650 across the United States with 200 planned. In 2005, there were 50.
Romain said the plan is for Thumb Rum “to bring a full-flavored rum to consumers through a dinner and entertainment destination…to give back to the community whenever possible…and provide good wages to the community.” That’s in addition to bottling and selling rum wherever possible.
Records from the Tuscola County Register of Deeds show that Larry Jocham sold the planned future location of Thumb Rum for $79,000 on April 28.
The main floor at street level is 6,000 square feet, Romain said, but there is also a basement and second floor. He said it was too early to determine how, or if, the distillery would encompass the entire building.
In the early 1900s, the building housed a Dodge Brothers Dealership and was located in close proximity to the old city hall, said Mark Putnam, former chairman of the Caro Historical Society.
Most recently, the building housed Anna’s Attic – a flea/antique market that rented booths to vendors for $5 a day.
“The old Dodge Brothers’ building near the old city hall has been a very valuable structure in Caro’s history,” said Putnam. “It has stood the passage of time and has been visited and enjoyed by many. It’s a landmark.”
Others who live and do business in and around Caro were excited by Romain’s plans.
“It’s excellent. He bought one of the most prominent buildings in the downtown,” said Jared Olson, city manager, Caro. (story continues below picture)
Olson said he’s encouraged by some of the activity as it relates to business in the downtown area recently.
For example, Gambles Do-It-Best Hardware recently expanded and the Patriot Party Mart is undergoing a renovation that includes knocking down an old gas station that many have called an eyesore.
“We’re excited to see some more movement,” Olson said. “We’ve seen some excellent movement downtown, some good projects, and we’re starting to see some building sales so hopefully this just continues on.”
Olson said that as of midday Friday no plans or blueprints had been submitted to the city of Caro for Thumb Rum & Brew. He said he first learned of it at a Caro Downtown Development Authority meeting earlier this year.
Romain confirmed that plans are still being developed for what the final version of Thumb Rum will look like upon completion.
Mark Ransford, a member of the Caro Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said the real estate investment business he co-owns had previously considered a brewery-type business for the downtown area, “but never had any concrete plans.”
In fact, Romain said that in addition to Thumb Rum, he believes Caro could support a brewery that specializes in beer.
“We always believed something like this could be great for downtown Caro,” Ransford said. “We’re thrilled they’re coming…we knew that would be a good step for downtown.”
Ransford said the investment group did some initial research to determine if a brewery or similar business would be viable in Caro.
He said the recently opened Elk Street Brewery & Tap Room in Sandusky has shed some light.
“The only metric we have with that is has it worked in other communities that are similar to Caro,” Ransford said. “And it appears there is success…Sandusky is a very comparable city and apparently they’re having very good success there. We’ve kept our eye on them.”
Steve Erickson, executive director, Tuscola County Economic Development Corp., said his organization has been working with Romain to help make the project a reality.
“As far as Caro goes, this is really going to be a spark of life to the downtown,” Erickson said. “As most of us know, after 5 p.m., people just seem to keep away. Maybe we’ll keep some life down there and not only bring business to it, but maybe to the other businesses downtown.”
Romain is a 2004 graduate of Caro High School and currently works in metro Detroit where he sells industrial microscopes. He said he is looking forward to coming home.
Romain said his goal has always been “to do something big” by the time he turned 30 and that he will meet that goal with Thumb Rum.
Romain said Thumb Rum aims to take advantage of the Thumb region’s abundant sugar beet crops in its manufacture of rum, which is made from molasses. Thumb Run will be distilled “using a process only used in the Caribbean” ands Romain said he’s working with a local chemist to perfect the taste.
People can expect to see the kind of tanks that are at other area breweries, such as Caseville’s Thumb Brewery and Elk Street Brewery & Tap Room.
The difference, he said, is that the process of producing rum includes a few additional steps during manufacture.
Romain said the next steps in the development process of Thumb Rum is to secure the necessary licenses and permits through the county and state.
It could take time, he said, which is why the microdistillery won’t open for awhile.
However, when Thumb Rum opens, Romain said he will work with the community – whether that means allowing local theater groups to perform, poetry and/or jazz nights, or even comedy shows.
“You think about the Caro area, and it really irritates me that Frankenmuth gets all of the attention and gets all of the money,” Romain said.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org