Before March 2020, Bangor Trust Brewing had already weathered more than its fair share of challenges.
A Lehigh Valley borough of less than 6,000 people located 32 miles north of Allentown, Bangor was first incorporated in the 1870s (its founder was an emigrant from Bangor, Wales). Historic homes of Pennsylvania’s former slate industry tycoons still flavor Bangor’s architecture today, and that’s part of what drew Bangor Trust co-owners Traci McGinty and Leo Bongiorno to launch their business there.
“It’s just a few minutes from the Appalachian Trail,” says McGinty of choosing Bangor. “And we’re much closer to New York City than the rest of the [Lehigh] Valley.”
The couple opened a bread bakery in February 2017 and continued fundraising for the brewery. They served their first Bangor beer at the original location at 15 Broadway in August 2018.
The bakery-and-brewing business was thriving. In summer 2019, the owners even considered purchasing a new location instead of renting, but the real estate deal fell through. McGinty and Bongiorno got ready to renew their lease, which was up on November 1, 2019.
But the duo was not able to renew — it was a double blow, because the lost lease included rented brewery equipment they could not immediately replace. Fortunately, they found another location in the heart of Bangor, about 100 feet away at 50 Broadway. The partners were hopeful: a better layout, a bigger kitchen, and a 20-foot stage all promised exciting growth. They just had to survive until they could re-open.
Bangor Trust is pretty scrappy. We aren’t giving up. Traci McGinty, co-owner
The new location needed cosmetic renovations and friends provided the “sweat equity,” painting, dropping off materials and tools, and lending or gifting equipment. Bangor Trust also launched a fundraising t-shirt and mug sale. The community stepped up — not just with purchases, but donations, too. Supporters included other Lehigh Valley brewery owners.
“It’s a pretty close-knit group,” says McGinty.
Ultimately, Bangor Trust’s plan to reopen before the end of 2019 didn’t materialize due to funding and permitting hurdles. But the community’s hands-on help and donations floated the closed brewery through January and most of February 2020.
“Things looked pretty bleak,” says McGinty.
The business pulled through for a grand reopening on February 27.
With plans to get the bakery back online by late April, Bangor Trust didn’t yet have a food license. Again, local businesses rallied to help. Little Creek Bar-B-Cue, Dinky’s Ice Cream Parlor, and caterer J. De Franco & Daughters rolled up to serve hungry brewery-goers food-truck style.
The new space quickly attracted crowds with the help of live music and events.
“We had two really good weekends of sales and were able to pay bills once again,” recalls McGinty.
It was a great feeling for the team and hope surged.
And then Bangor Trust faced the same crisis as businesses across America: The COVID-19 pandemic shut down bars and eat-in restaurants. The news hit hard. Bangor Trust had booked more than two dozen events in March that it had to cancel. Partnering food vendors, coping with the same challenges, could not continue onsite.
Bangor Trust is a small brewery, with none of its beer yet available in cans or bottles and no distribution beyond its brick-and-mortar location. But the owners decided to stay open for beer to-go and curbside pickup (4-8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday). They sell and fill growlers, and offer merchandise and gift cards.
McGinty is frank.
“We are struggling,” she says.
But the business is no stranger to struggle, and there are bright spots.
“Everyone is pulling together,” she adds. “With a little more time on our hands, we’ve been able to help others in the community, too.”
She’s even brought out her old sewing machine and is making DIY face masks with the Bangor Trust logo. The customers who do come by for beer to go are grateful for the beverage and the connection.
“Bangor Trust is pretty scrappy,” she insists. “We aren’t giving up.”
ALAINA JOHNS is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and the Editor-in-Chief of BroadStreetReview.com, Philly’s hub for arts, culture and commentary. You can visit her at her blog, where fiction need not apply.