Myrtle Beach has plusses and minuses in bid for Stone Brewing

sjones@thesunnews.comMarch 13, 2014 

State laws and transportation issues could impede the Grand Strand’s bid to become home to Stone Brewing Co.’s East Coast operation, but 14 million tourists may be able to overcome both.

Brad Lofton, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., said he knows the area’s bid for the facility has a number of challenges, but he added that the company appears open to the move anyway as it has agreed to meet with area representatives later this month.

“They seemed intrigued with our tourist draw” and the opportunity it would give them to promote their products throughout the East Coast, he said.

Stone Brewing Co. is seeking proposals from areas east of the Mississippi River for the construction of a brewery that would eventually produce a half million barrels of beer a year as well as an on-site bistro to sell its products.

The brewery is fine with S.C. law, but it does not allow direct sales to consumers by breweries. The state lets small brew pubs produce and sell on-site, but others are required to sell only through independent distributors.

The law requiring distributors to operate between brewers and consumers is a holdover from passage of the 21st amendment, which ended Prohibition. While it again legalized the production and sale of alcoholic products in the U.S., it also set up what is known as a three-tier system to end producers’ control over who could sell their products.

California, where Stone Brewing was founded, also subscribes to the three-tier system, but policy there lets craft beer breweries sell directly to consumers, according to the website of the California Craft Brewers Association.

The three-tier system also has been relaxed in South Carolina and other states to allow small wineries to both produce and sell to the public.

Lofton said Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, has offered to sponsor local legislation that would permit the company to brew and sell along the Grand Strand. Lofton said the state’s beer distributor association may oppose the legal relaxation to accommodate Stone Brewing.

But a former chairman of the S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association said the members aren’t against the change.

“We’re fine with it as long as [Stone Brewing] doesn’t self-distribute,” said Jimmy Yahnis, whose company distributes beer regionally. Yahnis is also an executive committee member of the MBREDC.

He said that distributors would view Stone Brewing’s operation as one way to promote all craft beers.

Yahnis said Stone Brewing already has a South Carolina distributor.

Yahnis said one way to relax state law would be to allow brewers to sell four pints of beer to legally-aged people who tour their plant.

At its California brewery, Stone Brewing also has Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens and a retail store adjoining its brewery near San Diego. It wants to have an East Coast bistro and retail store at its new location as well, said Sabrina LoPiccolo, a public relations specialist for the company.

Lofton said the EDC told the company that S.C. law currently wouldn’t allow it to have a similar setup here, but suggested there could be a way to allow it to have both in South Carolina.

The EDC is promoting a site near Broadway at the Beach that will need to be rezoned for a brewery, said Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea.

The company also wants easy access to a freeway, and Lofton said he’s not certain that the Broadway location would satisfy that. An engineer will be among the local contingent on the California trip to talk to the company about transportation routes and permitting, Lofton said.

If the company locates in Myrtle Beach, it would invest $20 million initially and $60 million over five years and create hundreds of jobs, all of which the company says would be filled locally. The company would expect to generate $100 million in annual revenues in its fifth year, a figure that it eventually expects to ramp up to a half a billion in yearly income.

The nation’s 10th largest brewer, Stone Brewing Co. has had an average annual growth of 46 percent since it was founded in 1996, according to its website.

The EDC has set up a Facebook page – www.facebook.com/StoneBrewedMB – so locals can help it lure Stone Brewing. Lofton said the idea came from Facebook pages set up by Stone Brewing recruitment efforts in Greensboro, N.C., and Charlotte, N.C. The Myrtle Beach site had more than 2,000 likes Thursday morning and Lofton said he hoped the total will reach as high as 20,000.

The Knoxville, Tenn., bid to the company includes two songs commissioned specifically to attract Stone Brewing’s attention.

Lofton said other South Carolina cities also have submitted proposals to the company, but other than Florence he wasn’t sure who they are.

Although LoPiccolo said such efforts really don’t set one locale above the others in the company’s eyes, Lofton said the EDC is considering the creation of a sand sculpture dedicated to Stone Brewing.

In addition to the engineer, others set to take the trip to Stone Brewing later this month include Broadway at the Beach owner Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., Santee Cooper, Grand Strand Water and Sewer and perhaps Clemmons.

LoPiccolo said the company hasn’t set a deadline for its decision for an East Coast location.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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