ADDRESS: 100 SW 2nd Street, Corvallis, OR 97333
PHONE NUMBER: 541-753-8057
WEB SITE: www.squirrels.biz
OWNER: Greg Little
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 38
WHAT THEY SELL: Beer – and food to go with it!
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: 16 microbrews on tap
A Corvallis landmark since 1974, Squirrel’s Tavern remains popular with everyone from blue collar workers to OSU grad students. Greg Little, the tavern’s founder, enjoys being part of the community. “The locals are the base and the students are the gravy!”
How did you get started? “I graduated from OSU with a business degree in 1973 and was working at a local tavern when the owner offered me the opportunity to buy him out. I took the chance.” Greg scraped together some financing and was able to buy both the business and the building that still houses Squirrel’s Tavern. The bank loan just covered the purchase, however, so remodeling had to be done by Greg himself with the help of his friends and family. “We were still painting over the wet ceiling mud on opening day in 1974!”
Tell us about your products and services. What are your specialties? “The Tavern has always been a working man’s place. We started out with 3 or 4 Schlitz beers on tap, until 1983 when we added Bud.” Greg has responded to the current trends in brewing and now has 16 different microbrews on tap. In 1986 Greg “borrowed” the liquor license from the Peacock Bar in order to host a Kentucky Derby Party complete with mint juleps. Although the Oregon Liquor Control Commission eventually required him to get his own liquor license, the Derby parties continued and expanded into Squirrel’s offering cocktails every Friday night.
“When you visit the Tavern be sure to check out the antique back bar.” This beautiful piece composed of polished wood and mirrors was originally from the saloon on a sailing ship that came around the Horn to Portland in the early 1900’s. Removed from the ship before she made her return voyage, the back bar graced a Corvallis establishment called PJ’s 1890’s, until finding a home at Squirrel’s Tavern.
Do you fill an unusual niche? “We have always been popular with the grad students.” An active participant in City League softball and basketball, Squirrel’s is the place to go after League games. This association with the City’s Parks and Recreation Department has been integral to the Tavern’s success over the years. “Squirrel’s has sponsored a City League co-ed softball team for 35 years!”
What challenges have you faced as an independent business owner? “I’ve enjoyed watching the community grow from a town of 15,000 in the 70’s to today. The Tavern does feel the impact of the new businesses that open, but I’ve enjoyed being here for 40 years.”
What do you feel is the impact of local independents on Corvallis? “Corvallis is a comfortable community. Corvallis is aware of economics – the locals know how to hang on to their money. They are socially and financially educated and that keeps the local economy vital and solid.”
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started? “The best thing I ever did was buy this building.” The building at 100 SW Second was built in the 1870’s. It housed a bank in the 1920’s which failed during the Great Depression. Squirrel’s kitchen is located in the former bank deposit vault. The serving hatch window had to be jack-hammered through a concrete wall 20 inches thick. “I thought the concrete would help keep the place cool, but it turns out to be a heat trap instead. When we first opened the beer kegs and tap lines, they would get so warm the customers stopped buying our tap beers and demanded bottled beer. We had to fill the sinks with ice to keep the bottles cold! Eventually we were able to put in a cooler for the kegs and refrigerated tap lines.”
The building has had many different occupants over the decades but Squirrel’s is the longest tenant. “Unfortunately, because previous occupants have changed the structure so much, I couldn’t have it listed as a historic building.” Greg regrets not paying more attention to the Corvallis housing market while he was building his business. “I wish I had known to buy a house then, too.”
Why call the tavern Squirrel’s? “My nickname in high school was Squirrel. The coach called me that because I was always chattering on the sidelines!”
(Interview and article by Kate Lindburg– July 22, 2012)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally-owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Corvallis Independent Business Alliance.