SKANEATELES | When Skaneateles resident Tom Ierardi first looked at what is now the former Creekside Coffee Bar & Books, he initially wanted to locate his Finger Lakes on Tap beer garden in the space across the hall that used to house the bookstore portion of the coffee shop.
At the time, he thought it would be a perfect partnership: Customers could sip on a cup of coffee in the morning and then across the hall in the afternoon to sip on a beer from a selection of more than 60 craft brews.
"I didn't know when came here to look that they were closed," Ierardi said from the 35 Fennell St. establishment, which he felt already offered the ingredients for success. "I thought they had a great business and a solid customer base. It was one less thing for me to think about. ... This space is pretty cool."
When Creekside abruptly closed at the beginning of the year, the whole space became available to Ierardi, and he chose to put Finger Lakes on Tap into the main area that housed the coffee shop on two levels.
As renovations continue to transform the former coffee shop, he plans to open the beer garden July 1 but acknowledged "that's really aggressive." But, "if you don't set a date," he said, there is no sense of urgency to get started.
"A whole bunch of things seemed to fall into place," Ierardi said. "Now is the time, and this is the place."
Outside of home brewing, Ierardi said he doesn't have any experience in the industry. He joked that he has "experience on the other side of the bar, not working behind the bar."
But, he said, thanks in large part to the farm brewery bill passed in 2012 and aimed at boosting the state's craft beer industry, small breweries have been "popping up all over the place."
However, he said, distributors find it difficult to handle the 75 breweries along the Finger Lakes Beer Trail, and that is where Finger Lakes on Tap aims to come with more than 60 taps featuring more than 50 craft brews made in New York.
With a total of 63 taps, Ierardi said Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards will take up three with a selection of its hard ciders and 51 will be set aside strictly for New York breweries.
The remaining nine will feature three taps each of an import, Boston Beer Co.'s Samuel Adams brands and Dogfish Head Brewery.
Of 51 New York-focused taps, 15 breweries will each showcase three of their brands for a total of 45 taps, while six taps will be reserved as swing taps for what Ierardi called "tap takeover" parties in which a brewery could feature a new product or host an event in the space.
Ierardi noted Finger Lakes on Tap should be a good showcase for local craft beer over bars that offer only a limited number of taps. For example, he said, with three breweries in Penn Yan alone, a bar that offers only one or taps would not be able to feature them all at once.
Meanwhile, Finger Lakes on Tap will feature a wide selection of products from breweries from all over the state. So, he said, visitors can enjoy the brew from their hometown and those not familiar with New York beer can try something different.
"We have a lot of people that come to Skaneateles," Ierardi said. "Some of them, they'll be able to drink their home beer when they visit. Other people, I think, will be overwhelmed with the great variety that is available, not just here but in the region."
With the state's craft beer industry exploding in growth, he added, "the beer trail is what the wine trail was 20 to 25 years ago."
He said he personally visited almost all of the breweries that will be featured with three taps of their own at his location. He sat in the tasting rooms and watched staff interact with customers as he thought about how he could fit in with that scene.
Ierardi noted that the breweries get a lot of people saying they would like to open a beer garden to feature craft beers, but many of them never come to fruition. Maybe he is "one of those voices," he said, but he feels that his idea will actually succeed because he has a location.
"It's really happening," he said, showing off the space that will become Finger Lakes on Tap. "This dream, this concept, it's going to work here
Ierardi recognized his location's past as a community gathering place where people met up for a coffee and some conversation or some kind of event.
Thanking his wife, Gloria, for supporting and encouraging him, he said he plans to open the beer garden from noon to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday while hosting some kind of musical entertainment, with an eye on finding a local jazz quartet.
Monday and Tuesday, he said, will be set aside for special events, such as an art show or some kind of fundraiser for a community organization.
"I think when Creekside closed, people missed it, not just for the coffee but as a place to go," Ierardi said, adding that his business will be different than others around the village. "It's not going to be like any of those. ... The idea is to come on and hang out and relax and just enjoy quiet conversation."