“You’re the Hoperatives, right?”
I’m sitting at the bar having lunch with a friend the other day. It’s a cozy place I like a lot and don’t get to often enough. We were actually on our way somewhere else when a fruitless attempt at avoiding holiday traffic put us out front. The point was to have lunch and catch up and my friend had never been there before. There was a convenient parking spot out front, so I called an audible and here we were.
We’d both ordered a beer and the owner overheard us talking about them. It’d been forever since I’d been there, but he remembered me. There was a thing he wanted to bend my ear about. The three of us wound up talking about it and about a dozen other things on and off for the rest of the time we were there. We eventually decided we need to get back to other things. We paid our bill and we were on our way. It was a thoroughly pleasant experience.
The owner had frequently apologized for joining our conversation and we’d both assured him it was fine. The topic was interesting, but it’s not what this is about. The point of this story is that things like this happen all the time. The only thing a little unusual about the other day is that Carla wasn’t there. We’ve both noticed we’re more likely to be recognized when we’re together than when we’re solo. It’s become a part of our lives.
Yesterday was a bit of a milestone for Hoperatives. We turned eight-and-a-half. Anyone who’s ever been an eight-year-old knows it’s very important to recognize that half year. Carla and I will have been married 19 years in just over a week. Intellectually I understand that we’d been married more than 10 years before we ever started working on this, but I honestly don’t remember what it was like not having Hoperatives be part of our identity. I don’t know if that’s actually a good thing mental-health-wise, but mental health has never been my strong suit, so I’m OK with it.
I know this is sounding a little like a eulogy. Or maybe a lot like a eulogy. That’s not the point of this either. We’re not shutting down Hoperatives. Not today, anyway. What we are doing with it is an open question. That’s the point of this. Where do we go from here? (Hey! I have a title!)
An occupational hazard of being human is that you develop these little scripts to get you across the social landscape from Point A to Point B. The one that applies here is the one about how there were only four breweries and one brewpub in Cincinnati when we started. When we told people what we were doing we got one of two questions (that we still get to this day): “Do you sell hops?” 1and “Do you home brew?”2. Carla has described Hoperatives as an informational website for several years now. When someone asks me what it is I freeze like a deer in the headlights. I never quite know what to say. Then again, that’s true of most things people ask me about.
The thing is, “Why Hoperatives?” has always been a little vague. Over the years we’ve done things and then stopped doing them when there didn’t seem to be a need for it anymore. We used to give out Hoperatives numbers. If you search for “Roll Call” in the search box over there to the right you can still find it. More than 400 folks have asked for a number over the years, but we never really had any plans for what to do with them other than thinking it was a fun idea. If you have a Hoperatives number you’ll be happy to know that there is no list of email addresses associated with it. There’s no danger of spam because we never got that organized.
We used to do Hoperatives Happenings as a way for people to gather and geek out about beer without having the overhead of a beer dinner. We introduced folks (and ourselves) to places that embraced better beer. We stopped doing them when it became too hard to schedule them because there were too many other events going on. There just wasn’t a need anymore. So we stopped.
We did a blogging conference in conjunction with the Cincy Winter Beerfest for a couple of years. By the end of the second one we knew there wasn’t a reason to have a third. It was pretty obvious “Peak Blogging” had come and gone.
More than a dozen people have written for us at one time or another. “Traveling Tuesdays” came out of the fact that many of us sought out better beer locations when we were traveling for business or pleasure. But folks have lives. They move on. They have jobs and families. Loving beer and writing about beer are two different things. Most of the regular writers were friends before they wrote for us. Now they’re friends who used to write for us. The right thing remains.
We used to do previews of new local places and beer reviews. The reviews stopped early on because it’s a rat hole you can never climb out of. People love the reviews they agree with and hate the ones they don’t. Thus it was, is, and ever shall be. Since we weren’t trying to change anyone’s mind, it seemed like a lot of effort for no good end. News faded out more slowly. All of our major local print publications do a great job with beer as a beat, as do several of the broadcast outlets. By the time we quit doing news, we were pretty much just running press releases.
So what’s Hoperatives now? Here on the site, it’s mostly event listings. It’s incomplete because it relies on a very few people emailing us, but otherwise it’s an aggregation of events that Carla finds posted on Facebook. A weekly summary gets sent out to a mailing list. We have a Twitter account that I update on occasion and Carla handles the Facebook side. We’ve suspected for some time that the Facebook reach is much wider than the site. It definitely triggers more social interaction. Perhaps because that’s what it’s designed for? Facebook wasn’t close to being the media gatekeeper it is now when we launched, but now it is.
There’s really only one thing that’s been a constant with Hoperatives: We’ve never turned a profit doing it. That’s not a complaint. We never had a plan and we’ve executed it flawlessly. There was a time we were part of the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s blog network and that mostly covered the hosting fees and a bit more. That ended a couple of years ago when they changed their strategy. We haven’t — and won’t — run the numbers but over its life there’s no way it’s been anything but a loss financially. Then again, so are Bengals season tickets. I think we’re ahead on that.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating by saying Hoperatives has changed our lives for the better. You probably can’t say that. It would, be kind of weird if you could. Many, many, many of you have told us how much you appreciate what we do. That’s different. I’m proud of the perch we’ve had watching the beer scene mature here. We’ve been welcomed by brewers, distributors, and fans. Once in a while, we’ve been able to be part of bringing the parts together. A small part. I can’t honestly say there’s anything that wouldn’t have happened in the beer scene had we not existed. And that’s as it should be. We’ve been more than fortunate.
I said earlier that this isn’t a eulogy, but it’s also not a “business-as-usual” post. Hoperatives has to evolve or go away. We’ve been close to hanging it up a couple of times but it seems we find something new to start doing and run with that. Maybe we will this time. Maybe we won’t. What I can say is that we have until Sunday, December 31, 2017 to figure it out. That will be nine years to the day since we put up our first test post to make sure I’d gotten WordPress installed correctly. By that date, we figure out what we can do to be a unique part of the Cincinnati beer scene, or we call it a whatever-you-call-nine-years. We don’t know what that will be. If we did, I’d be working on that instead of writing this. We like being a resource. We’re committed to the Cincinnati beer community. It has to be something that’s worth the time we invest. Beyond that, it’s just spit-balling at this point.
We’ll come up with something or we won’t. We’re always open to talking ideas over a beer.
2 Not really. There are so many professionals out there willing to do it for me in exchange for small amounts of money.