What’s with all of the eye-rolling over Charlotte’s brewery boom?

What’s with all of the eye-rolling over Charlotte’s brewery boom?
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Dozens of new breweries have opened in Charlotte over the past few years. 10 more plan to open within the next 6 months. I’ve noticed that each new brewery opening, for a variety of reasons, prompts a great deal of handwringing.

How predictable, some say. 

Charlotte has too many breweries, others grumble. 

This is getting monotonous, I’ve heard. 

The other day, the Agenda shared news about Charlotte’s newest brewery, Sunstead, opening near Bank of America Stadium. I tweeted about how surprised I was to hear so much complaining about Charlotte’s brewery boom. 

I should have been clearer about my use of the word “surprise.”

I understand why some people may roll their eyes at the prospect of more breweries: More investment in rich neighborhoods like South End. Breweries are by no means the only kind of small business growth that the city should be encouraging. To suggest as much would be short-sighted. 

What I meant by “surprise” was: People say all the time that Charlotte doesn’t have much of a personality. Many complain about the surge of national chains moving in — as well as the fact that the city doesn’t always do a great job of preserving its history. 

Breweries are actually the ones often rehabilitating old buildings — giving new life to dilapidated places like auto-body shops and aging warehouses. Town Brewing opened in an old building once home to an industrial equipment supplier called Lubromation Inc. in 2018, for instance. Heist opened in a former textile mill in 2012. 

Do we have too many breweries in Charlotte?

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Breweries are small businesses that create new jobs. It’s hard to see how these trends could be considered a bad thing.

(It’s hard to fit all of that in a tweet.)

Over the last few days, I’ve considered the complaints readers commonly share about breweries opening. I’ve also looked at how dramatic the local brewery boom really has been.

Breweries have most certainly contributed to Charlotte’s economic growth in recent years.

In Charlotte today, there are nearly 40 breweries. That’s a staggering increase from a decade ago, when Olde Mecklenburg and Rock Bottom were the sole operators in town.

Statewide, the economic impact craft beer is over $2 billion, according to the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild. Breweries support more than 12,000 jobs throughout the state.

I don’t have a count for the number of people the brewery industry employs just Charlotte. But in all likelihood, the industry accounts for many more jobs than just those directly employed by the breweries.

Breweries are, after all, manufacturers.

“That comes with a lot of supply chain purchases — hops, equipment, etc. — which mean breweries have generally higher economic impacts than typical restaurants,” says Chuck McShane, VP of data for the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

Our local craft-beer boom is taking place as the city’s population continues to explode. Some local officials say upwards of 100 people relocate to Charlotte every day. People want to live here. They want to do business here. 

Sure, this can create traffic. Charlotte’s experiencing a lot of other growing pains. But isn’t it better to be in a city where people want to live and do business — as opposed to a place that’s shrinking?

Sunstead brewery Gold District

To be sure, though, highlighting the benefits of brewery growth in Charlotte does not mean that the entire local small business community is thriving.

For many minority-owned small businesses, for example, access to credit and capital can be challenging. 

Some critics see the city’s small business growth as uneven. Most breweries are white-owned. Most are opening in certain neighborhoods close to Uptown, like South End and NoDa.  

Jonathan Jones, who is from Huntersville and co-owns a plumbing services company, says that Charlotte’s brewery boom underscores disproportionate growth. The breweries themselves aren’t bad, nor are the people who enjoy them, he said.

Bring in all the breweries you want — just don’t forget about the others who make up this community,” Jones said.

Sherrell Dorsey, an entrepreneur who splits her time between Charlotte and Atlanta, says breweries here typically cater to a certain demographic, even if they don’t mean to.

“Breweries represent a layer of gentrification that welcomes spaces that cater to majority white customers and culture that traditionally hasn’t been safe space for the city’s diverse population,” Dorsey said.

In a 2018 QCity Metro column, Bernie Petit argued that the black community represents a “growth opportunity” for Charlotte breweries.

Breweries that only cater to one type of audience likely won’t survive,” Petit wrote.

At the time, Petit urged readers to visit Charlotte’s only black-owned brewery, Three Spirits, but it closed last spring. 

Data show that the emergence of breweries in certain Charlotte neighborhoods tends to raise property values.

A study from the University of Toledo last year examined real estate around breweries in Charlotte. It found that when a brewery opened within a half mile, the sales price of a single-family home rose almost 10 percent in areas close to Uptown, such as NoDa and South End. I wrote about this trend for the Observer last year.

For some people, that’s a positive development, as it means they’re growing their wealth. For others, it may mean being priced out of an area.

Others wary of Charlotte’s brewery boom suggest that we may be too obsessed with alcohol these days.

That’s a valid point. There are, of course, obvious health risks associated with alcohol consumption — certain types of cancers, liver damage, heart disease. The list goes on.

“Charlotte gatherings are too frequently focused on drinking. I should open a rehab center,” one reader said in response to our story that details the 10 breweries opening in Charlotte in the next half-year. 

Some brewery-skeptics worry that the city may be reaching “peak brewery.” Supply, they say, may be starting to outpace demand.

But if Charlotte, which has a population 10 times the size of Asheville’s, had Asheville’s brewery saturation, there would be nearly 300 breweries here, the Observer and others have written.

Still, I suppose, the boom can’t continue forever.

For now, though, breweries for many are a way to build community.

They host run clubs, donate water to hurricane-devastated towns, and support nonprofits.

Breweries create a sort of “third place,” too. There’s work, there’s home, and then there’s somewhere in between where you hang out and relax.

Coffeeshops fit into that category, too. Some have even argued that breweries replace church as a community-building place for young people.

You can’t go into a typical bar and read a book or play a board game the way that you easily could at a local brewery, Charlotte resident AJ Spring notes. He says Charlotte’s brewery scene makes the city more family-oriented than other large cities.

“Kids and dogs in breweries is a hot topic ’round here, but it turns out people still like to have fun after they have kids, and breweries allow them to do that,” Spring said.

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