After 68 years of delivering beer, wine and soft drinks to Hood River area retailers, Mid-Columbia Distributors is going out of business.
Tom Bryant, the third-generation owner-operator of the company at 1110.5 Pine Street on the Heights, says Mid-Columbia will stop serving retail accounts as of the end of June.
“We’re shutting down,” Bryant confirmed. “We’re moving all of our brands to other companies.”
He said Columbia Distributing in Portland will take over the largest beer brands, such as Miller Brewing products. Craft beers will shift to General Distributing in Oregon City. Southern Wine and Spirits will deliver wine to large and small grocers. And Maletis Beverage of Portland will take on delivery of non-alcoholic beverages and wines to restaurants.
Bryant knows the change will affect local customers. Mid-Columbia has never set a minimum purchase level, as some larger distributors do.
“We’re in the customer service business,” he said. “Somebody can buy just one bottle of wine from us, if that’s what they need.”
He shakes his head, thinking about larger distributors who will drive by a potential customer that can’t meet a minimum order amount, to reach another customer who can.
“It’s asinine,” he says.
Bryant said consolidation in the distribution industry left smaller players such as Mid-Columbia at a challenging place in the market.
“It’s time,” he said. “The business isn’t what it used to be. There’s not too many wholesalers our size left anymore. We’re the only one left between Portland and Pendleton.”
The company started in the years after World War II. Bryant’s grandfather, Ray Schwartz, and Flying Tigers ace Ken Jernstedt founded the company. Around 1951, Jernstedt split off the soda side of the business, and Schwartz kept the beer and wine side.
Bryant’s parents, Jay and Beverly, bought the business in 1972. And in 1996, Bryant, his wife, Von, and brother Terry acquired it. Terry later left to buy Mid-Columbia Overhead Door.
Bryant says the company has two warehouse employees and nine field reps. Some have already found jobs. Others will be looking.
He says even though Mid-Columbia will shift all assets and distribution rights to other companies, he will be going to the office awhile longer to wrap up paperwork associated with the shut-down. There’s equipment to sell, too, and a decision about what to do with the building.
The Bryants are leasing the building from Tom’s mother, but he says “we’re not sure what to do with it. We’ve been approached by people interested in the property, so it won’t be hard to move.”
“The people make it fun,” Bryant says. “My wife calls us beer farmers. It’s very true. It pays to be good to people. You form a lot of relationships over that many years.
“I’m going to miss it. I grew up in it. I’ve been around it for literally 60 years. It’s going to be different, to say the least.”