Turning Point

How Odd

Offbeat locations can be winners.

By G. David Doran

With so much competition out there, a small business must sometimes go to great lengths to succeed. Finding a location swarming with potential customers may require a bit of "creative sitework."

Take, for example, The Cavern Supply Company in New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The company runs two different shops there, a gift shop at ground level and a lunch shop in the caverns--750 feet underground.

Operating a business that has literally never seen the light of day isn't easy, according to Cavern Supply Company president George Crump. "It's a challenge to bring in supplies and get rid of garbage," says Crump, who sells sweatshirts, food and hot drinks to visitors chilled by the caverns' constant 56-degree temperature. "Everything and everybody, including my employees, has to go in and out by elevator--and it's a three-minute trip."

Customers don't seem to mind, though. Each year, more than 600,000 people visit the caverns and shops, which have been open since 1930.

Creative sitework can also mean opening a business in a location so unique, customers can't help but be intrigued.

The Church Brew Works near Pittsburgh is a former Irish/Scottish Catholic church built in 1902 that's now considered sacred ground by beer lovers. The site houses a brewpub and restaurant that features such aptly named potables as Pious Monk Dunkel.

Although the church has been slightly remodeled to accommodate the business (the altar area now contains a 15-barrel brewery, for example), company president Sean Casey insisted on making as few changes as possible to the church's basic layout.

"We wanted to highlight the inherent beauty of the building," says Casey, who opened the brewpub, the first in the nation to be housed in a church, in 1996. "It's a simple, elegant structure, and we tried to minimize the impact of putting in a restaurant/bar by keeping as much of the original structure intact as we could."

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This article was originally published in the April 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Turning Point.

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