Many people try for years to break into the film business, but Buckeye BrewCraft owner Jim Downing was looking for a way to break out of it. After graduating from The Ohio State University, Jim lived in Los Angeles where he worked as a key grip in the film industry. However, getting married and having a child made him realize he wanted to break away from the fast-pace world of L.A., so he moved his family back to Columbus.
Having gotten into homebrewing about seven years ago as a hobby, he became frustrated at the lack of a homebrew supply store in Columbus, which caused him and many others to have to travel to Brewtensils in Dayton. Jim soon became well acquainted with the owner and decided that Columbus was the perfect place to open up a homebrew store and - voila! Buckeye BrewCraft!
Homebrew stores are often similiar - they offer grains, kegs, homebrew starter kits, etc. But Jim is committed to making Buckeye BrewCraft different and definitely more personal. It's because of this mentality that people from as far as Mansfield and Findley come to patronize his shop.
"It is because of our customer service, quality of products and what we are providing," Jim says. "I have been told by my friends that I care too much about anything and everything. Well, I care about every person who comes through that door. I want everyone to be successful in whatever endeavor they have, be it beer, wine, soda, etc. I don't claim to have or know all the answers, but I will find it!"
Jim's commitment to his customers is evident, especially when you talk to people who regularly patronize his fine establishment. Jennie Koeper and Nathan Shadley are avid home brewers and huge fans of Jim and Buckeye BrewCraft.
"Some reasons I go to Jim's, it feels like a second home," said Nathan. "You walk in, you're greeted and treated better than the other homebrew stores. Jim's knowledge is endless, but if there's something he doesn't know, he has a network of brewers and vendors to where he will find the answer for you."
Jennie said that it's even more than having a reliable homebrew supplier - it's Jim as a person. In addition to being a reliable source for everything homebrew, he has also become a reliable friend. "With both of us losing our fathers within a couple months of each other, the compassion Jim has shown is amazing," she said. "We've cried together, hugged each other and kind of been there for one another throughout this entire ordeal."
The great part of buying your homebrew supplies from Buckeye BrewCraft is that you're not just buying supplies, you're also gaining a mentor of sorts.
"We provide continuing service," Jim said. "Meaning that if you are stuck? Call. Got a problem? Call. I get regular calls and emails dealing with people's brews, wines, etc. I gladly put myself out there to give the right information. There is a lot out there already, but a lot of bad info too. There are a lot of answers to the same question too, and a lot of right answers. But if I advise you and it is wrong, then I owe you money."
Jennie and Nathan both agree that Jim is extremely helpful when it comes to asking for advice. "Another thing that impressed me was helping set up our brewing protegees, the Wargos," Jennie said. "Jim had so much knowledge to share while we were getting them set up with their first brew. One of my favorite pieces of advice that Jim has given is for beginners, brew with a kit until you are comfortable without looking at the directions every step. Then branch out and experiment until you are comfortable."
One of the ways Jim tries to help fellow homebrewers is by offering workshops and brew clubs. There are basic workshops like "Introduction to Homebrewing," which Jim says is the most popular, but he also offers workshops dealing more specific issues such as all-grain brewing and kegging. However, his workshops don't just stop there. If wine-making and meads are what you're into, Buckeye BrewCraft is the place to turn as they carry those supplies and offer workshops on those crafts as well.
Some people are hesitant to go into a supply store such as Buckeye BrewCraft because they aren't really informed and they might be worried that they will be pressured into buying a lot of things that aren't really necessary. According to Chris Thompson, one of Jim's employees at Buckeye BrewCraft, that will never be an issue in their store.
"We try not to force people to buy things they don't need or don't want," he reassures. "We don't nickle and dime people." If Jim isn't in the store, Chris is also a great "go-to" guy for answers. He is able to help customers figure out what they need and even give them a quick tutorial about the equipment they buy. Chris is as adamant as Jim about customers asking for help. "No one should ever hesitate to ask questions or get in contact with us," he said.
Buckeye BrewCraft offers homebrewing and wine making supplies, but also caters to nonalcoholic drink makers by offering soda stream products. However, if beer, wine or mead is your passion, this is the store to come to. Jim offers whatever you need to make your batch well and says that if they don't have it, he will special order it. Customer feedback is taken to heart, so whatever people need, Jim wants to make it happen for them. This is another reason Nathan patronizes BBC. "The prices he has are better than other homebrew stores, his selection is amazing and always expanding," he said. "And he's willing to special order items for customers. (Jim) has made it into a store that focuses on customers, hence the homebrew club, the competitions, the classes and other special events."
In addition to giving homebrewers a great place to buy products and attend workshops, Jim is also committed to his community. "I do my best to support local merchants and organizations," he said. "Uptown Westerville has proven to be a great fit for me as my neighbors." Jim offers a permanent discount to military servicemen and women, and has even offered discounts for wearing an "I Voted Today" sticker.
Most recently, Buckeye BrewCraft celebrated one year in business, which coincided with a Summer Wheat homebrew contest (one of many contests BBC holds throughout the year). Brian Dalton took home first prize with his aptly named Summer Wheat brew. During the anniversary party/homebrew contest, customers interacted, shared their creations and talked about how BBC is a great place to come to when they're ready to start a new batch. Buckeye BrewCraft is certainly making a name for itself and it sounds like word-of-mouth is helping to bring in more and more people. Jim said he would like to open another store on the south side of Columbus so people won't have to drive as far as Westerville. This truly is a man all about his customers.
Buckeye BrewCraft is located at 33 N. State Street in Westerville. Check out their website to see their workshop schedule and other upcoming events.