In a tree-obscured Redmond industrial park, just down the block from a cemetery, Corey Anderson is stocking the world's largest selection of root beer.
Anderson keeps 91 different root beers at his appropriately-named The Root Beer Store, an outgrowth of a lifelong hobby that's gradually taken over the space previously reserved for his wholesale feather duster business. This month, he opened a second location in Lynnwood.
"People constantly walk in our store and say, 'wow, this is my favorite store'," Anderson says. "I get 50-year olds, jumping up and down like four-year olds, clapping their hands. There's a surprising amount of existing root beer lovers."
There are now about 350 root beers manufactured nationwide, although another few thousand brands have vanished from the market. Root beer -- invented by Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires, who first poured his concoction at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition - is a purely American phenomenon. According to Anderson, Europeans think the drink tastes like cough syrup.
Root beer is a tremendously diverse category because every root beer formula incorporates a mess of different roots, barks and herbs. "People come up with their own blends," Anderson says. "How many different orange sodas can you come up with?"
The Root Beer Store stocked about 30 different root beers when it opened a year ago. Anderson says he plans to slowly acquire more brands, but growth has been inhibited by major shipping companies' refusal to ship a single case of root beer. He's forced to buy brands by the pallet, which means he'd have to find a place for half a million bottles if he carried every kind of root beer.
Anderson plans to supplement his root beers with ice cream at the new Lynnwood location, a luxury prohibited by the zoning codes regulating his Redmond shop. The ice cream will be served in frosty mugs so customers can pop open a root beer bottle of their choosing to make an instant float.
If the ice cream concept succeeds, Anderson hopes to replicate it in cities across the country. He's also planning to start bottling his own root beer, although he'll use a different recipe than the one he and his father followed when they made root beer at home.
"I have visions of this going very far," he says. "Root beer lovers are a force to be reckoned with."