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Finding a Hook in Silver Spring

Rich, left, and Matt Fleischer, owners of Hook &  Ladder Brewing, will open a restaurant and pub in the old firehouse. Rich Fleischer got into the brewing business in California but brought it home to Maryland in 2005.
Rich, left, and Matt Fleischer, owners of Hook & Ladder Brewing, will open a restaurant and pub in the old firehouse. Rich Fleischer got into the brewing business in California but brought it home to Maryland in 2005. (Hook & Ladder Brewing Co.)
By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 5, 2007

Where coils of fire hoses once rested, pints of ale will soon be poured.

The historic Fire Station No. 1 on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, which has been eyed by more than a dozen developers and hundreds of potential buyers since it went up for sale in July, will become a restaurant and brew pub with a firehouse theme. A firefighter and part owner of Hook & Ladder Brewing has a deal pending to purchase the property from the Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department.

The deal, expected to close in May, will end months of speculation about what would become of the building, which was built in 1914 and doubled as a National Guard armory until 1927. When its firefighters moved into a brand-new station across the street, some community members feared the old station would be torn down as new developments inch toward the southern end of Georgia Avenue, known as Silver Spring's historic main street.

But the property's soon-to-be owner Jeremy Gruber, a beer enthusiast and retiring captain with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, said he plans to preserve the red brick, two-story building. Gruber is an investor in Hook & Ladder, which was founded in 1999 by Bethesda natives Rich and Matt Fleischer, who were also attracted to the station's place in Silver Spring's past.

"It's not every day that a fire station becomes available for sale in the town where your brewing company is based," said Matt Fleischer, 31, president and chief operating officer. "We want to continue the tradition of firefighters in the area."

Rich Fleischer, 35, started Hook & Ladder while living in California, blending his love of beer and his years as a volunteer firefighter with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. Matt soon signed on to help run the business. Even though their home-brewed ale was a hit at parties, it never earned a profit.

So the brothers moved back to Maryland. Rich worked to recoup costs and Matt went to business school. They relaunched the company in June 2005 in Silver Spring and captured part of the growing market for microbrewed beers, which jumped 11 percent last year and 29 percent since 2003, according to figures released last month by the Brewers Association.

Small brewers are becoming more popular in the northern half of the country as consumers look for more diverse flavors, said Paul Gatza, director of the association.

Today Hook & Ladder's American-style beer flows through the taps of about 140 local restaurants and bars. The Golden Ale is a best-seller, and Backdraft Brown is gaining popularity. Mix the two to get Ember Amber, a personal favorite of the brothers.

They plan on partnering with a restaurant operator who will sell their beer, keeping the station's original decor and adding memorabilia such as old helmets and coats. Gruber said he doesn't plan to alter the building, which is listed in Montgomery County's Locational Atlas and Index of Historical Sites.

Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Brokerage, which handled the sale, did not disclose the selling price. The suggested minimum bid was $2.5 million.

Jerry A. McCoy, president of the Silver Spring Historical Society, said he hopes an independently owned restaurant in the firehouse will help revitalize Georgia Avenue between Wayne Avenue and the District line, which has been neglected since new development in downtown Silver Spring, near the intersection of Colesville Road.

"You can go to that section of Georgia Avenue and it looks like one big party. Then you walk south and it's like no-man's land," said McCoy, who said he is worried that high-rise condominiums will replace the two-story historic storefronts.

"Now they're primed for an incredible comeback," he said. "A restaurant in that firehouse would really help that end of the street."

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