Brew Week board: Glass half full despite departure of leadership

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With the majority of the Ohio Brew Week staff stepping down earlier this month, the nonprofit’s board is taking a beer glass half full outlook on the situation as the festival begins a new chapter next summer.

Over the last eight years, Dan Gates has served as executive director of the festival and his wife, Melody Sands, has served as marketing director. Together they, along with several family members and close friends, have shouldered much of the responsibility of coordinating the festivities and watching Ohio Brew Week blossom. But on Oct. 1, Gates and Sands submitted a letter to Ohio Brew Week’s Board of Directors stating that they are retiring and so is the rest of the staff.

Ohio Brew Week was the brainchild of Jon Sparhawk, who passed away in 2007. Sparhawk was also the owner and operator of the Oak Room restaurant.

In his letter to the OBW board, Gates wrote, “Amid sharing memories with the Sparhawk family as they closed down the Oak Room over the weekend, I came to the realization that it is the end of an era. I and my family got involved in Ohio Brew Week out of our friendship and loyalty to Jon Sparhawk, the originator of the idea of the country’s first and best week-long craft brew celebration. Jon was an important and stable backbone for our town, and by example, he showed us all how to be stellar citizens for the good of the town.”

Gates continued, “At this point of great success for our nine-day long festival, I have decided to retire as executive director, and Melody Sands will retire as marketing director, as will our hard-working staff…. We are all leaving knowing that we achieved what we set out to do, and more.”

But as Gates and his family have helped develop Ohio Brew Week into what it is today, OBW Board President Steve Patterson said that the departure opens the opportunity for the board to reevaluate the paid positions of executive director and marketing director.

Patterson said Gates oversaw the major events such as the keg tapping ceremony, the Rock N’ Roast, and the Last Call celebration, plus got all the breweries on board for the week. Sands was not only the marketing director, but also handled sales and merchandise, Patterson said.

“The two of them had a lot resting on their shoulders,” he said.

In addition to the handful of OBW sponsored events, local bars and restaurants also create their own Ohio Brew Week events. The 2013 Ohio Brew Week had more than 70 events on tap for the nine days.

With the staff leaving, Patterson said the board can look at ways to break up some of those duties which could be overwhelming for just a handful of people. He said restructuring positions can make those tasks more manageable. The board may decide to have one person handle sales and merchandise while another person concentrates on social media, website, magazine and press activities, for example.

Three years ago, Ohio Brew Week went from a large multi-day event to a full nonprofit organization. Patterson said the board has the opportunity to expand on the festival’s strengths and that board members have been getting calls daily from people who have expressed interest in helping to grow the festival by offering their talents, such as web design.

Patterson said the board itself has its own set of skills and will contribute to the success of the event. For instance, Patterson coordinates the educational components of Ohio Brew Week such as a hops growers’ symposium. Sparhawk’s daughter, Jamie, is also on the board and will help keep in contact with brewers across the state who provide their craft beers for the festival.

According to Patterson, the board is also in discussions of moving Ohio Brew Week back to July. Ohio Brew Week traditionally had been held in late July, but moved to late June the past two years after Ohio University began holding its student orientation in July.

Patterson said there simply weren’t enough hotel rooms in Athens to accommodate both OU’s orientation and Ohio Brew Week. But now Ohio University will again be holding its orientation in June next summer — prompting OBW to move back to July.

“There are only so many beds in Athens,” Patterson said. The craft brew festival brings thousands of visitors to the city throughout the nine days.

Patterson said the move back to July will be good for Athens businesses during the slow summer month.

“Many businesses struggle during the dry month,” he said.

Paige Alost, executive director of the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau, thanked Gates and Sands for their service in growing the event.

“Brew Week is hard work and it takes a huge group to put it together,” she said.

Alost said that Ohio Brew Week has grown every year and the event has a direct and indirect impact of between $800,000 and $900,000 a year. She said she expects more visitors to the festival every year.

“It carries the name of Athens across the state and the country,” she said. “It’s hard to beat Brew Week.”

Alost added that she’s confident the OBW board will find leadership to keep the festival flourishing.