In 2017, the business moved to 324 E. Main St. from their small shop down the block on 236 E. Main St., when Dick Nelson, owner of Nelson Fine Arts, rented the space out.
Nelson gave Chris Cates, one of Johnson City’s youngest business owners at 33, “first dibs” on the building to continue selling everything customers need to brew their own beer, wine, mead and cider.
“Our initial plan was I wanted to open an actual brewery,” Cates said. “Other than home brewing, I had no business-running experience other than what I did at a former job as an assistant manager.
“So we were like, ‘Well, let’s open a supply store retail shop – that’s something I’m comfortable with running.’ ”
It all started with a personal passion for brewing.
“That’s how I got into it. I just had a love for it,” he said.
In the years since starting Edisonian with his wife, Brandi, Cates has worked to build his business after starting small. He said it was a lot of trial and error to “get his feet wet” in running a business, but he soon found that many were attracted to his business model.
“Now, we’re like the only grocery store that exists for people who need groceries for brewing,” he said.
That niche has attracted a loyal customer base that comes from all around the region to get the tools they need to make their own brews, and it’s made Cates more confident about the next stage of his business — opening a brewery.
“About a year into our old space, we found that this space was going to become available for rent, and I developed a relationship with Dick Nelson, the owner of the building,” he said. “We started working on our plan to open a brewery here.
“In November ’17, our lease expired on 236, and we jumped right up here to 324 and started the buildout for what will become the brewery and brew supply shop combo,” he continued. “The brewery is Little Animals brewery — ‘Little Animals’ is a reference to that we brew sour beer, mixed cultured beers. Our beer’s not just a yeast — there are lots of ‘little animals’ involved in making it.”
Cates said he has big plans for Little Animals Brewery, the latest local development in the brewery and beer market that has continued to grow since emerging years ago. Once the brewery opens, he said the Edisonian will be “within” Little Animals Brewing.
“The end goal has always been to be a brewery, serving the beers we make on tap, and to also — in the same building — still have our retail store to sell people stuff to make their own beer,” he said. “We’re under construction for the brewery right now, which will probably be open late this year.”
Cates will be the first Johnson City business owner to both sell beer and the tools to give customers a chance to make their own. At the end of the day, it’s about what it’s always been about — creating the best brews possible to match different tastes.
“That’s pretty much what we’re here for. I help people brew better beer all the time,” he said.