Photo By David Robert

In its years of operation, the Great Basin Brewing Company, a restaurant and bar that produces its own beer, has become a fixture of downtown Sparks. It has survived various configurations for downtown improvement and has expanded more than once. People attending special events in downtown Sparks have come to expect the Great Basin’s outdoor music. Tom Young is one of the cofounders of the brewery and, in the early 1990s, was in the unusual position of having to make his business legal before he could start operating.

How long have you had the business?

It’s been open for 13 years. We started the project well before that. Ninety-three is when we opened the doors.

What happened before that?

We had to pass some state laws. It was against the law to operate a brewery like this in this state, mostly because of some of the restrictions the alcoholic beverage distributors [got through the] legislature. They had some influence, so they held it down. Everything else seemed to be legal in this state except brewing, I think, I don’t know why—actually, I do. It was money. At the last hour before the legislation went in to pass, it was difficult [for the distributors] to argue that it was better off if we paid people’s wages in St. Louis versus Nevada to brew beer, but despite all that, they threw in a clause saying you could only operate this type of business in a redevelopment district in Clark and Washoe counties, which is where you have the best chance of failure. I think that was [the lobbyists'] goal.

Do you know how many of these brewery restaurants there are now?

I would just hazard a guess. I think there’s like seven or eight in Las Vegas and four in Reno and one in Carson City.

Is there a trade organizationfor them?

No, and actually, you know, that’s something we need to—I’ve actually thought about that a million times, just doing a no-dues brewery guild. In fact, maybe I’ll do it now that you reminded me again how important it is.

You’ve seen a lot of changes in downtown Sparks over the years. How do you feel about how things are now?

Well, it’s hard to see exactly where we’re going to end up. I mean the growth has been horrendous, tremendous in this area in general and everything. You know, it’s going to subside, and it always does for a while. We slow down, and we can catch our breath. I think in terms of the brewing community, the business has been strong every year.

Do you feel secure economically in downtown Sparks?

Oh, yes, sure I do. But who knows about tomorrow? I used to lose sleep over every change or something that happened legislatively or competition-wise things, too. But luckily, I’ve given that up. Now I’m going to panic when I see the numbers go down. But they haven’t.

Do you see any changes for your business any time soon?

We are constantly growing. We’ve probably stretched this brewery into almost as much as it can possibly produce size-wise, and we’ve expanded it several times. We’re kind of out of room right now, too. So we are actually currently investing in our opportunities twofold—one to expand brewing production, so we can supply more beer to other establishments, and the other one is just looking at other Great Basin Brewing locations. But as I say, we’re pretty picky right now because things are going pretty well; don’t want to rock the boat. Got a great staff now. I don’t want to screw them up.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...