A local brewery owner who has given much to others now needs help to keep the taps flowing at YesterYears Brewery and Taproom.
David Larsen, a U.S. Navy veteran with 25 years in the real estate industry, started the 300 East Main St., business two years ago. He planned to eventually pass the brewery on to his son Bill.
That plan ended with his son’s death by suicide in November.
Bill Larsen, 24, had struggled with depression, Larsen said, and when Bill and his wife lost their baby, Jackson, he blamed himself for the miscarriage, Larsen said. The marriage fell apart.
David Larsen shut down the brewery when his son died, leaving the taproom in his employees’ hands, and took a break.
“I didn’t come in – (except for) maybe three, four or five times – for three months, because this is the last place I saw him alive,” Larsen said, his words halting and eyes wet. “He was learning the back but worked (part-time) at the bar.”
The blow came as they were building distribution partnerships and planning to roll out a canned beer. Taproom business remained OK but slow, and when Larsen returned in late January, he realized the business was behind on the rent.
“They held the ship the best they could while I was away. They allowed me to be away,” he said.
While landlord Main Street Partners gave them a 50 percent discount in January and February, cutting the rent to $7,000 a month, it hasn’t been enough. They got hit again by the OWASA water ban in February, he said.
When UNC grad student Katie Stember learned about the situation, she and her friends talked with bar manager Cynthia Burkins about how to help. With less than two weeks to raise $28,000 in back rent, they started a campaign at YouCaring.com.
The taproom also will hold a fundraiser Saturday, March 11 – after the game if the Tar Heels play – featuring The Wylie Fosters. Larsen said friends and colleagues from all over have stopped by, offering encouragement, donations, labor and T-shirts to sell.
Stember said Larsen has been a good friend, selling her art and donating space for photo shoots that she used to pay her cat’s vet bills. David Larsen also volunteers his time and partners with nonprofits and other local businesses, sponsoring bike rides, fundraisers and community events, she said.
“David’s done so much for this community in terms of all the different charities that he’s helped, all the different volunteering he’s done, all the space that he’s donated,” Stember said. “(We thought) if we could somehow get the word out that he was struggling, that people would pay that back in spades.”
Stember and grad students Aspen Gutgsell and Alex Guseman said they found a comfortable home at YesterYears; you never know who you’ll meet there, Guseman said. The Larsens and Burkins have become like family to them.
Bill Larsen was friendly, said Stember, who met him when they worked the parking deck at YesterYears’ grand opening.
“He was just one of those people who always had a smile on his face,” she said. “He just seemed so happy all the time. He was infectious in that way.”
While Larsen has received real estate job offers, fighting for YesterYears is how he and his wife, Sheila, want to remember their son, Bill.
“That was part of it, just to see it succeed to honor him,” he said. “But also to get more involved in the community and to develop more of a community for us in here.”
How to help
An online fundraiser has been set up through the YouCaring.com website, youcaring.com/SaveYesterYearsBrewery.