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A new brewery and restaurant going into historic downtown building

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Cathy Dobson

A large historic downtown building is being converted into a new craft brewery, bar and restaurant set to open in early summer.

The River Run Brew Co. is taking shape in the refurbished basement of 146 and 148 Christina St. That’s the 12,000-square-foot building outside the former Bayside Centre, near Cromwell Street. Most recently it was occupied by the Ravenous Gastropub and Trinity Lounge and has stood vacant about 18 months.

Local realtor and developer Mark Woolsey bought the property a year ago after repurposing the building at the other end of the block, where the Downtown Market now operates.

“I’m a sucker for old buildings, I love the character and I love taking on big projects,” said Woolsey.

“I also love downtown, I live here and I like the vibe. This new bar is going to blow your mind.”

He’s formed a partnership with long-time friend John Tidball, who will operate the River Run Brew Co. in a spacious 4,000-square-foot basement.

The men purchased four fermenters and the rest of their beer-making equipment from a craft brewing operation in Vaughn, Ont.

“They were upsizing and we bought everything they had,” said Woolsey.

He and Tidball had been garage brewing for years when they decided the Sarnia market was ready for another craft beer.

The success of The Refined Fool Brewing Co. a few blocks away proves Sarnians like the concept, said Tidball.

“We know the market can handle another craft brewery. I don’t think there’s any limit to it right now,” he said.

Tidball said he expects to start producing eight different styles of beer in May.

“We want to have a full range of varieties, everything from light to dark.”

To start, River Run will produce only enough beer to supply the restaurant and bar Woolsey is opening on the building’s main floor this summer.

Only part of the main floor had been used in recent years, but The Tin Fiddler will occupy all 4,000 square feet. On the north side of the front entrance, a pub-style restaurant will seat about 70, while a banquet and special functions room is going in on the south side.

Woolsey is adding a new kitchen and washrooms toward the back of the building, and will reopen the outdoor Courtyard he established last summer.

“This is a big, big project but it’s what I always wanted to do,” said Woolsey, who’s been a realtor in Sarnia for the past five years.

Building regulations required him to build fire separations between each floor, so he’s gutted both the basement and main floor and stripped the walls back to their original hollow clay blocks, an interesting design he’s never seen before.

When the drop ceilings were removed they revealed 16-foot plaster ceilings. Four layers of linoleum and tile have been pulled up to expose the original terrazzo flooring throughout.

“We’ve got all new electrical, all new plumbing and comply with new building codes,” said Woolsey. He declined to say how much it is costing.

Throughout the restoration, decades of old renovations have been removed, as well as an accumulation of furniture and memorabilia that hint at the building’s many uses over the years.

It was built between 1890 and 1910 and was a retail store for many years. In fact, Tidball’s grandmother recalls working there as a clerk at Stirrett’s department store in the 1950s.

In the basement, where he is busy brewing, his grandmother once sold shoes for Stirrett’s when she was a teenager, said Tidball.

“This space has great vibes for me,” he said, smiling.

Several apartments dating to the time the building served as a strip club have been demolished, said Woolsey.

“We’ve uncovered windows that we cleaned up and they just look awesome,” he said. We’ve hauled away a ton of stuff and worked really hard to get to this point.”

An opening date for The Tin Fiddler brew pub and River Run Brew Co. is anticipated in June.

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