The Root Beer Store is ditching its Redmond roots and relocating to Idaho
The Root Beer Store is the kind of place you imagine opening when you’re an 8-year-old. It’s an understandable dream, since root beer is clearly the apex of soda. When all the sodas are inevitably destroyed by no-calorie health drinks in the coming beverage wars, root beer will be the last one standing.
Though it’s not quite the same as if Microsoft were to leave, the recent announcement that all four of Washington’s The Root Beer Store locations were closing hit the local root beer community hard. The idea that once seemed too dreamlike to exist is actually no more.
Owner Corey Anderson announced he’d be shuttering the entire 6-year-old Washington operation and moving it to a single location in Sandpoint, Idaho, where Anderson and his family currently live. The Tacoma and Puyallup stores have already closed, and the Redmond and Lynnwood spots will close at the end of December. Online orders will remain open.
“In the end, the decision was a financial one,” said Anderson in a statement. “Some unforeseen events put us into a situation where we faced looming debt, and because we have always run our business debt-free, we were not willing to take the risk … the costs of obtaining root beers from around the country, along with the exorbitant costs of taxes, wages, rent, etc. is something few realize unless they have opened a small business.”
At the flagship location in Redmond, where root beer fans have until the end of the year to stock up, endless rows of dark bottles sit on old, creaky wooden shelves, filling the air with the aroma of vanilla and molasses. It feels less like a store than a collection in your uncle’s basement. With an empty six-pack case as a shopping basket, you can browse more than 100 brands of root beer, along with countless root beer-flavored snacks, including licorice, gumballs, taffy, Pop Tarts, beef jerky, and Oreos. Looking to buy a Coke? Go elsewhere.
If this is the first you’ve heard of it, and you’re suddenly in an understandable panic about not having time to try all 100 brands, consider Virgil’s and Iron Horse for a more traditional root beer, or Brownie Caramel Cream and DougieDog if regular root beer isn’t sweet enough for you.
While it may seem odd to devote an entire store to root beer, consider that there are over 350 active brands in the country. This is because there’s no single root beer root, but a plethora of them, the most common ones used being vanilla, licorice, burdock, dandelion, wintergreen, and sassafras. Sweet molasses also plays a major role as an ingredient, and is a great thing to say when you’re surprised, such as “Sweet molasses! The Root Beer Store is moving!”
Root beer historians (actually a thing) generally believe that early forms of root beer were made by Native Americans and European farmers for hundreds of years. It was Charles Elmer Hires who introduced the first commercial version in 1876, but the foamy beverage really took off during Prohibition as an alternative to alcohol.
Perhaps Washington lawmakers could bring prohibition back to save The Root Beer Store. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.