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If I could take a shot at formulating a phrase that sums up what Allaina Propst is all about, the best I could come up with is, “That’s great. What’s next?”
Even as it edges nearer to closing time on Sunday afternoon at the dining area of her restaurant/brewery, she’s still buzzing with ideas. She thinks fast. While customers around her might be trying to slow down, Propst is just getting started.
Inside Here & Now Brewing Company—a brewery and farm-to-table restaurant on Honesdale’s Main Street—is a warehouse-style brick interior and enough tables to host a wedding reception (which it has). At least, that’s what I see.
What Propst sees is a blank slate begging to be marked up every which way.
“I like different projects. I like solving problems and setting up systems,” Propst said about what drives her. For the past few years, the 29-year-old Honesdale native has devoted most of her time to launching and growing her biggest project to date: acting as a founder and co-owner of Here & Now. Propst opened up the business in 2017 with her cousin Steven and brewer Karl Schloesser almost three years ago.
It’s a jump from what she’s done in the past. Propst spent her mid-20s behind a desk, working as an analyst for a venture capital firm in New York City. A brief chat is all you need to get the impression that you’re dealing with someone analytically minded.
Propst left town in 2008 for Bryn Mawr College, where she studied Middle Eastern studies and economics. Despite its minor two-and-a-half-hour distance, at first, the close-knit women’s liberal arts campus felt almost foreign to Propst.
“Going into my intro day, they were saying it was weirder to come out as Republican than it was as gay,” Propst said, “which of course, leaving from Honesdale, was so insane.”
After Bryn Mawr, Propst headed to Wall Street. She returned to Honesdale in 2012, to assist her mother after her father’s death. Propst worked part-time at the then-newish art and culture non-profit, The Cooperage Project.
Working there—meeting new people and discovering novel spaces around town—felt more worthwhile than her days in the office, Propst said. Now she’s trying to foster that same sense of discovery in her own space.
But what might’ve worked in finance doesn’t necessarily work here. On Wall Street, it was all about efficiency.
“Here… efficiency is different, where it’s like you could get things done quicker, faster, smarter, maybe, but that cuts out a whole range of other people,” she said. Adjusting to the hands-on environment of small business engaged her immediately. “I could sweep, I could wait tables, I could make cocktails, I go in the kitchen, I could brew. I could do all these cool things within this space.”
Propst wants to dispel any doubts that craft beers would never catch on in Honesdale. Here, not every local is set on Miller and Bud Lites, she adds—“actually, they drink pretty cool beers.” Here & Now is packed most weekend nights, and brings in crowds through music and event hosting.
All of that justifies the work the pair of Propsts, Schlausser and chef Ben Cooper put into the early 20th century building. Renovating the basement and bottom floor of the three-story property was a project akin to an adult game of Tetris, Propst said. Every step, from approvals and licensing to ripping out almost two dozen dumpsters full of dropped ceiling and carpet, had to land at the right place and time. In a couple of years, the H&N crew has gone from selling growlers of beer out of the garage to turning out whole batches of forge beers and pale ales in a matter of weeks.
The selection has also expanded into a series of saisons and other brews with flavors and recipes influenced extensively by ingredients that are partially locally sourced. H&N’s annual fall pale ale IPA, dubbed Neighbor Hops, uses local hops.
Propst wants to create a community space, inviting her staff and customers to walk out with knowledge they didn’t have before. Chef Cooper runs a series of open cooking classes, with a focus on homemade dishes made with homegrown ingredients.
Here & Now is just one of several businesses that have sprung up in town in the last few years, in a Main Street revival lead in part by young people like the Here & Now ownership. Throughout the country, rural areas are noticing the benefits of young natives returning home after time away, according to John Cromartie, a branch chief at the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.
“[That’s] a mindset that I think is catching on to some degree,” he said.
In 2014, Cromartie aided in a study that looked at the causes and effects of young people returning to small towns. He and his colleagues found that the people who do return tend to be self-starters who start new ventures and create niches.
For homegrown kids like Propst, it’s less about reaping the benefits of owning your own business as much as it is about cultivating new opportunities in previously untouched terrain.
Earlier this year, she became treasurer of the Honesdale Clean Energy Co-op, a collective made up of investors helping to push renewable energy initiatives like solar power in Wayne County. The co-op facilitated in the installment of the charging station for electric cars just off Main Street. Fellow board member and owner of Nature’s Grace Health Foods & Deli Jamie Stunkard said he’s glad to see fresh faces taking active roles in the community.
“It’s a cliche: they’re the next generation,” Stunkard said. “They’re the people that are going to be holding the torch.”
Right now, Propst is more concerned about the immediate future. She’d eventually like to develop the top two floors of the building.
“That’s what’s cool about right now and the growth of Honesdale,” she said. “It seems to be sustainable and it’s, like, slower, which is good. Everyone who is here with a business is doing it for more than just their bottom line.”