Cappione's 80-Year History

It has been 80 years since the Massena-based beer distributor Cappione Inc. became one of the first area businesses to receive a license to sell alcohol.

Utica Club Beer is what made us, because that's all we had until the 1940's," Mr. Cappione said.

Cappione Inc. still handles Utica Club Beer, although many of the brands it used to handle have disappeared. Local breweries that have closed up and ceased to sell beer through Cappione's include the Syracuse-based Haberle Congress Brewing Company, the Albany-based Rheingold Brewing Company, and the Buffalo-based Lang's Old German.

Other brewing companys grew to fill the void in the beer market. Mr. Cappione remembers when Anheuser-Busch distributed only 5 million barrels of Budweiser per year. "[Anheuser-Busch] just kept getting bigger and bigger. Today they're the biggest brewery in the world", he recalled."

Throughout its 80-year history, Cappione Inc. has also seen drastic shifts in where its beer is distributed to. In the 30s and 40s, 80 percent of the alcohol they distributed went to bars and restaurants, while today closer to 80 percent of their product is shipped to grocers for direct sale to consumers.

"The beer market has changed dramatically from then until today," Mr. Cappione said. "It could be from changes in [how our] leisure time [is spent]."

Although the company now deals solely in distributing beer throughout St. Lawrence county, it used to deal in soft drinks and heating fuels. In 1948, Cappione Inc. opened the Canada Dry Bottling Company, which bottled Coca-Cola, 7-Up, and Dr. Pepper brand soft drinks. Those operations were closed in 1983 because larger soda bottlers have made business unprofitable by smaller bottlers such as Cappione, Inc. "Smaller bottlers weren't able to keep up. We would have existed but not been very profitable," Mr. Cappione said.

The company also sold heating wood and coal, and later on oil to residents and local businesses for heating. It delivered its products directly to its customers. "We didn't have oil burners or electric heat back then," Mr. Cappione stated.

Cappione Inc. discontinued its home-heating sales in the 1960s, when natural gas became a popular commodity for home heating. "You get out of the business while you can," Francis said.

Today Cappione Inc. is one of two beer distributors in St. Lawrence County. It is headed by Mr. Cappione's sons, John B. Cappione and David Cappione, and it employs an average of 30 full-time workers in Massena.

- Excerpt from Northern New York Newspapers (Tim Fenster)