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Brew store reinvents itself
Keeps family business alive with creative changes 

Everyone has probably heard the story about the big hardware store that comes into a small town and causes the local stores to lose business.

That is what happened in a way to Brett and Eric Kuhnhenn, two brothers who own a hardware store in Warren, Mich., called Lutz Hardware. A Lowes warehouse recently opened up just a half-mile from their store, which their dad bought some 35 years ago.

Their problems were compounded by the fact that there were three Home Depots within a short driving distance.

Like a lot of stores that have faced a similar dilemma, the Lutz owners decided they just couldn’t compete against the big stores. But instead of closing for good, the brothers are transforming their hardware store into a seven-barrel microbrewery and brew-on-premise shop.

It may sound like an odd transition, but the Kuhnhenn brothers have been in the beer business for some time. As well as being active homebrewers, they have sold homebrewing supplies out of the back of their hardware store for many years. (They were one of the original White Labs clients).

Brett Kuhnhenn, 28, says there is a long tradition of selling brewing supplies out of hardware stores. But he began selling the product not to revive an ancient tradition but out of necessity. He and his brother started selling the supplies after encountering the frustration of not being able to buy products locally. "We thought, why do we have to drive to buy supplies? Why don't we just sell them ourselves," Kuhnhenn recalled.

The transition is a special one for Brett because of his appreciation for the art of brewing. He promises to make one of the better German-style Hefeweizens as well as other lagers and ales.

The brothers plan on bottling their beers in 12- and 22-once bottles as well as offering kegs. The brew-on-premise aspect of the business, meanwhile, will become one of only a handful in their home state.

"We're going to give it our best effort and see if it works," Brett said. The brewery/BOP will be called Kuhnhenn Brewing Co.

Lutz Hardware is located 5919 Chicago Rd., Warren, MI 48092; (810) 264-2351. The company also has a Web page and online catalogue at brewingworld.com.