It was built at 3501 Lincoln Avenue in 1913 along one of Omaha’s streetcar lines and served the surrounding neighborhood as a grocery for close to 80 years. Today, 3501 Center Street is home to a new brewery and taproom brought to life by an Omaha couple with a passion for home brewing and old buildings.

Tom and Lindsey Clements opened Vis Major Brewing Company in mid-August. The name, which is Latin for “act of god,” harks back to a long-ago era when Belgian farmers would crush and boil the remaining grains at the end of harvest and leave them in open casks. Wild yeast blew in from the fields and fermented the wort. It’s said the farmers saw this as a “touch of the divine” that transformed their grain into beer.

There’s also something divine about repurposing structurally sound older buildings for new use. To do so, the couple turned to local architectural firm AO for a design plan that would meet their business needs and showcase the brewery’s name.

The AO team decided to repurpose several items from St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, which closed recently and was sold by the Omaha Archdiocese. Pews were used for seating, light fixtures were salvaged, and an old confessional was used as a back bar focus, said Bill Stott, a principal with AO. The old tin ceiling needed to be removed to install new fire-rated drywall between the bar and second story, so the tin ceiling panels were used as an accent wall behind the bar.

The couple brews their beer – currently 12 on tap and three on deck – in the basement of the building, while the main floor features a bar, semi-private meeting room and food prep space. “On opening day Aug. 18, there was a line of 25 beer enthusiasts and neighbors waiting to get in,” said Stott, also a neighbor and one of those in line.

In addition to its beer selection, Vis Major sells gourmet popcorn, bratwurst and extras. Free tours of the facility are conducted Wednesdays at 6:00pm and Saturdays at 2:00 and 4:00pm.

And those who are old enough are encouraged to share their memories of the former Clanton Grocery online.

Carolyn Wayne, the granddaughter of grocery founder Lindsay Clanton, said the back of the store had two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. Her father, Elmer, was born in the store, and her four brothers would deliver groceries in wagons around the neighborhood. There was a barn in back for the horses, and kids would stop in to buy penny candy before taking in a movie across the street at Center Theater. (See the gallery of historic photos from Clanton Grocery below.)

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