WINSTON — Steve Johnston wanted to continue making his own beer, but he didn’t want to continue driving to Eugene for home brew equipment or ingredients, especially if he needed something quick.
“I found it to be a challenge,” he said. “I figured other people might be in the same position. Something was missing here for the home-brew people.”
Johnston took care of his travel woes by opening his own home-brew business in 1992 in his Green garage. “The store was for my convenience,” he said.
A year later, he found an empty building on Douglas Boulevard in Winston and moved his business, the Harvest Store, to where it continues to reside.
Johnston said at that time there were some Roseburg-area businesses with a few home-brew products, but there was a need for a full-service store.
He said the decision to become a small business owner didn’t come without some serious consideration. His experience after graduating from Douglas High School in 1980 included a business degree from Umpqua Community College and then three years working at a couple of retail nurseries. He learned he didn’t want to manage businesses for others because he couldn’t make changes on his own.
Opening his own business would give him that authority.
But to do so, he needed money to lease a building and buy inventory.
Johnston said that dilemma was solved when a VISA card with a $10,000 credit arrived in the mail.
“It was kind of wacky how it happened, but I decided to cash out that card and dump it into a store,” he said. “I thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’ The worst-case scenario was that I’d have the equipment and ingredients to make a lot of beer and have it for myself if I couldn’t get anybody to buy from the store.”
The young owner lived on a shoestring for the first year or two. Customers did frequent the store and at the end of three years, Johnston had paid off his VISA debt.
“I was frugal; I made it work,” said Johnston, 52.
The building into which Johnston moved his business to in 1993 had previously been a small grocery store. So on many occasions in those early years, he had people walk in and ask for milk, eggs and bread. To accommodate those requests, he stocked some of those items, including candy for kids, for a few years. But that’s not what he wanted his store to be, so he increased the emphasis on home-brewing and gradually made a transition in his food inventory to organic groceries and candy bars.
“We were targeting a different clientele,” he said. “It’s always been challenging to change the business as changes were needed, to see market trends, to be flexible.”
One change Johnston made was to move the Harvest Store to Roseburg in 2000 in hopes of attracting more customers. At the same time he opened another business, Natural Harvest, elsewhere in Winston. But in time he wasn’t pleased with the progress of either business, and when the Douglas Boulevard building he had vacated was put up for sale, he bought it. In 2003, he closed his two stores and combined his home-brew and natural foods businesses at the one Winston site. He also added winemaking products.
Johnston said it’s not unusual for customers to buy one of the beers or wines and then try to make it at home. Or people will experiment and make a beer or wine they can’t find elsewhere.
Beer is a combination of barley, hops, water and yeast, he said. “Then it’s a matter of the amounts and the temperature to make different home-brews. And people will experiment with berries, ginger, banana for different flavors. Pumpkin beer is popular at Thanksgiving.”
The store features more than 300 micro brews and imported beers. The wine selection includes bottles from about a dozen local wineries.
Craft brewing increased significantly in popularity in the past 10 years and the growth included the founding of the Umpqua Valley Brewers Guild, a member of the American Home Brewers Association. The Umpqua group has about 40 members, including Johnston and the Harvest Store.
Diane Griffin of Roseburg, president of the Umpqua guild, has been a Harvest customer for the past eight years.
“There’s a very nice selection of products for home-brewing, and a nice collection of craft beers,” she said.
“They’re listening to what people need and want and trying to supply it,” she said. “There’s a beauty to taking raw ingredients all the way through the process of making a beer. There’s a new awareness of home-brewing, and we’re really happy to have Steve and his store here.”
• News-Review business reporter Craig Reed can be reached by phone at 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.