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‘Hands-on’ work grows company

Mirror photos by Walt Frank / Mark Glasson (left), Greg Denis and Jake Denis check out kegs of beer at City Beverage.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series on businesses that will be inducted into the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame on Oct. 21 at the Blair County Convention Center.

City Beverage started out selling a single brand of beer — Ballantine — but through numerous acquisitions and the addition of new products — it has become a master distributor and continues to grow.

Founded in 1949 by Anthony and Kathryn Gimo at the corner of Sixth Street and Seventh Avenue, City Beverage will be one of four businesses inducted into the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame on Oct. 21 at the Blair County Convention Center.

“We were very honored to be considered for this award. We are a third generation, family-owned business and this is our 70th anniversary. We have come a long way. We are truly honored to be inducted — for our family to still be in business for 70 years, that says a lot,” said General Manager Jake Denis.

In 1971, the Gimos sold the business to their niece, Joyanna Monti Denis, and her husband, John Denis.

Mirror photo by Walt Frank / Ben McCall operates a forklift in the temperature-controlled central warehouse at City Beverage.

“My parents were school teachers. They worked at the business in the summer. They realized there was a big opportunity. They left teaching and bought the business from Aunt Kathryn,” Jake Denis said.

Just eight years after the Denis family bought the six-employee business, they moved the beer distributing company from its 5,000 square foot location to a building three times that size on East Sixth Avenue.

In 1980, City Beverage built a state-of-the- art 18,000-square-foot warehouse at their current location of 525 E. Sixth Ave.

“We took on Miller Brewing in the early 1970s and Stroh Brewery Co. We built this to accommodate growth because of Millers and Strohs. They were our two big brands and we couldn’t accommodate them, so we built this,” Jake Denis said.

In the early 1990s, John and Joyanna’s sons — Jake, Greg, and Brian — became actively involved as third-generation owners, having completed their college degrees.

John remains as company president.

A 32,000-square-foot addition was built in 2001, doubling the size of the facility and added a central loading dock.

In 2011, a 20,000-square-foot satellite warehouse was added on Eighth Avenue.

Following numerous other acquisitions, City Beverage made its largest acquisition in 2017 with the addition of Coors Brewing and other brands.

“That took our sales volume up 25 percent. Coors is one of the two largest breweries in the United States,” Jake Denis said.

Today, City Beverage has 20 plus suppliers and offers more than 400 brands, said Mark Glasson, sales manager.

The company has grown to more than 25 full and part-time employees.

City Beverage distributes over a wide area.

“We are a master distributor, which means beer made at the brewery is delivered to us and we have exclusive territorial rights to distribute the brands. Over an 11 county area, we distribute select brands to all licensed accounts — bars, restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores, beer distributors and special venues,” Jake Denis said. “In the last 20 years, the Denis family has been in an acquisition and growth mode with numerous acquisitions and the award of new brands.”

City Beverage has won numerous awards over the years, but Jake Denis said the Miller High Life Achievement Award received in 2007, the highest award given by Miller to any wholesaler, tops the list.

Being “hands-on” has been a key to City Beverage’s success.

“We are hand- on day-to- day. We are active in all aspects of the business, in the day-to-day operations,” said Greg Denis, vice president.

Giving back to the community is important.

Local charities supported by City Beverage include the Central Pennsylvania Humane Society, Altoona Boosters, Burgi’s Low-Life Charities, Allegheny Community Arts, Blair County Arts Foundation, Blair County Association for the Blind, Altoona Public Library, Altoona Symphony, MAC Scholarship Fund, Relay For Life, The Miracle League, Operation Our Town, American Heart Association and Mending Hearts Animal Rescue.

“We want people to know we are very generous to a lot of organizations,” Jake Denis said.

The Denis family is optimistic about the future of the business.

“The wholesale industry has changed in the last 10 years, we’ve been able to adapt to grocery and convenience stores selling beer. Although overall beer consumption is down, we are continuing to acquire new brands and grow. We hope to bring a fourth generation into the business,” Jake Denis said. “Today, we are pursuing a new larger facility to accommodate our future growth. We are maxed out at our present location. We are expected to outgrow our current facility by the end of 2021.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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