Bear Republic to close original Healdsburg brewpub, consolidate in Rohnert Park, Cloverdale

Customers at the brewpub where Bear Republic Brewing began in the 1990s chalked up the brewery’s departure from town as another step in Healdsburg’s upmarket evolution.|

Bear Republic Brewing Co.’s flagship brewpub and restaurant in downtown Healdsburg is slated to close next month after nearly a quarter century, a move the family who own the brewery said they were driven to make because of the rising costs of doing business in a tourist-destination city during a business slowdown.

Bear Republic will continue running its Rohnert Park brewpub and Cloverdale production facility. Founded by a father-and-son team in 1995, the brewing company makes the strong, signature Racer 5 India pale ale and is considered among Sonoma County’s pioneering craft beer makers.

With the closure, Healdsburg will lose 36 jobs as well as a mainstay watering hole and family-friendly affordable restaurant, something many local residents say is increasingly scarce in a city that caters to a rarefied visitor clientele.

“There was no way we would like to leave - this is a home base,” Bear Republic founder Richard Norgrove Sr. said. “There are people who have come from all over the world to Bear Republic. Some of our employees have been here 16, 17 years.”

Norgrove Sr. said his family reluctantly chose to close the pub because the ?building needed significant upgrades and the rent was going up. The Healdsburg brewpub’s last day of business is scheduled for Nov. 22.

The closure comes about two years after the Norgroves opened their Rohnert Park brewpub, a $2.5 million project designed as a destination brewery with indoor and outdoor dining, a games area and stage for musical performances. The brewery on-site features a 10-barrel system.

Healdsburg’s changing demographics is also a driving factor for the closure, said his daughter-in-law and co-owner Tami Norgrove. High school enrollment is down, the football team couldn’t find enough players and fewer people have been coming in to eat, she said.

“What you see in Rohnert Park is a lot of younger families that Healdsburg doesn’t have to offer right now,” said Tami Norgrove.

Tami Norgrove said the Healdsburg pub’s employees will be able to apply for positions in Rohnert Park or Cloverdale.

The company’s announcement comes on the heels of other brewery closures in Sonoma County. Petaluma’s 101 North Brewing Co., known for its Heroine India pale ale and started by former Bear Republic employees, served its last pints in Sonoma County on Saturday after seven years in business trying to break into a crowded Northern California craft beer market. Cloverdale Ale, formerly Ruth McGowan’s, closed its brewpub in September.

In January, 2 Tread Brewery shut its Santa Rosa Plaza brewpub less than five months after opening, and its owners blamed the 2017 wildfires for lagging business.

Since it opened in 1995, Bear Republic’s Healdsburg brewpub has generated a loyal clientele identifiable by their personalized glass beer steins. Saturday, the news of the impending closure brought many together at the Healdsburg brewpub’s bar. They talked about watching each other’s babies grow into kids and adults at the restaurant and compared notes about how many marriages grew out of relationships forged over Bear Republic pints.

At the bar, Saundra and Jim Boito of Santa Rosa drank beers Saturday just one seat over from where they met five years ago, using their steins, Nos. 47 and 43. They married at the pub this summer in a ceremony that closed down the restaurant officiated by a beloved bartender.

Artist Saundra Boito’s early work can be seen on the walls of one of the bathrooms, which she painted more than 15 years ago with blue sky, snaking ivy and a bear licking the remnants of a spilled bottle of Racer 5. In the restaurant, the Boitos’ nuptials are commemorated on a chalk drawing hanging from the ceiling in the center of the dining room.

“This is a last bastion of a local spot,” Jim Boito said. “This is what you can afford when you live here.”

At a nearby table, longtime Healdsburg residents Jo Ann Dondero and Dawn Clopton drank Hop Shovel IPA from their personalized steins and marveled at how so many people and businesses are being priced out and pushed out of town.

Dondero raised five children in Healdsburg, where she’s lived since 1973. One of Dondero’s daughters got her first job at Bear Republic at age 16. She met her husband there and today she is a manager of the Rohnert Park brewpub and the couple is raising two children.

Dondero said that while Healdsburg was once a community of families, only three homes on her block near the junior high school have full-time residents. The other seven are second homes or vacation rentals.

Dondero and Clopton said the closure felt like another blow to a community already scattered.

“It doesn’t feel good,” Dondero said. “This is the gentrification of Healdsburg.”

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.