Oaklyn resident Jimmy McMillan plans to open the third location of his make-it-yourself hobby shop in the space soon to be vacated by Sara O’Brien’s Community Rocks! nonprofit.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 16, 2017
For Jimmy McMillan, the chance to open up his Philly Homebrew Outlet (PHO) in his hometown of Oaklyn is a piece of the American dream.
His children attend school up the block; his home is around the corner.
The shop, which will be the third PHO location and the first in New Jersey, offers a close commute to its other storefronts in West Philadelphia and Kensington.
McMillan and his business partner, Nick Less, plan to bring the maker-focused business to 215 West Clinton Avenue by Black Friday.
Philly Homebrew Outlet is “basically a DIY consumables hobby shop,” McMillan said. Built around the motto “redefining homebrew,” the shop offers raw materials and hands-on education for making everything from beer and wine to cheese, soap, and honey.
“We’ve been told we were the anti-store store,” McMillan said. “You come buy stuff from us to go home and make it yourself instead. It’s just teaching people what things are again.”
McMillan likens homebrewing to the slow-food movement: both processes involve a lot of up-front work with a delayed payoff.
They reward time, patience, and effort, and when everything’s completed, there’s something to be enjoyed.
Do-it-yourself kits can range from $30 or $40 for a cheese- or wine-making project to a couple hundred dollars for a full homebrew system.
Philly Homebrew Outlet also offers free, drop-in classes on everything from brewing to yogurt-making to pickling and fermentation.
Eventually, McMillan hopes to expand their subject matter to things as far-flung from brewing as open-source coding with Arduino circuits and Raspberry Pi programming.
“You’re making things; you’re building things,” he said. “It still fits with the theme.
“At the end of the day, the store is a retail store with an educational component.”
“If we’d stuck with beer [exclusively], we probably would be out of business at this point,” McMillan said. “Seeing that there’s a decline in the standard beer and wine homebrew market doesn’t mean that there’s a decline on the whole for people wanting to do things and make things themselves.”
By setting up on West Clinton Avenue, just a few storefronts up from Tonewood Brewing, McMillan is also hoping to capture the interest of beer enthusiasts who will patronize Philly Homebrew Outlet as a destination shop. McMillan and Less cofounded the Philadelphia Homebrew Club, and have supported Barley Legal, the largest homebrew club in South Jersey; they also operate Philly Tap Services, which provides beer system installations, maintenance, cleaning, and troubleshooting.
With Philly Homebrew Outlet moving into the block, one of its longest-tenured tenants, Sara O’Brien’s Community Rocks! and its Studio Luloo performance venue, will be moving out.
After 11 years in business, O’Brien, said she was ready to give up the space.
“I feel confident now that we don’t need a storefront,” she said. “We need a community center space, and we need more space.
“I’m definitely a little sad, but our whole mission is to be in the community; to find a centralized place that’s bigger with multiple rooms is really what we need, and I just got comfy there.”
The mission of Community Rocks! is to empower young people to make a difference in their communities, O’Brien said, and as Oaklyn has grown, she sees that other, neighboring communities could use the help her organization provides. A Gloucester City resident, she also works in Camden City, and has fielded interest from Haddon Township in relocating there. Wherever she turns up next, O’Brien added that she’ll “always be open to helping facilitate any kids program in Oaklyn.
“We’re potentially looking to buy a space this time,” O’Brien said.
“There’s such a thirst and hunger here for the arts that it’s kind of exciting.
“This work is hard,” she said.
“We’re volunteer-run, essentially, so you have to be somewhere where you have a good team working with you.
“It’s all logistics, but it’s what I need to do, and I’ve known that for some time,” O’Brien said.
“Sometimes you need a little shove.”
O’Brien also endorsed McMillan, and said the opportunity to cede her storefront to a business like Philly Homebrew Outlet made her feel a bit better about pulling up stakes.
“They have a family and they live in Oaklyn, and I think it’s a great fit for them personally,” she said. “Oaklyn has really grown; I’m so happy that the town was empowered to do so. Now we’ll go to another town, and hopefully be a part of that growth.”
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