After all the Facebook fan pages, the email blasts, the summertime tap takeovers, the national media coverage, and even a First Friday rally in Downtown Norfolk – Stone Brewing up and decided to take Richmond to the Prom instead of us. With all that energy, time, and money spent to paint the 757 as Stone’s best fit for their East Coast brewing operations, it now seems that craft beer geeks from the Peninsula to the shore are crying in their Double IPA over such a tragic missed opportunity.
To keep another prospect like Stone Brewing’s bid from passing us by, how do we leverage that high-volume excitement to attract beer-related investment and tourism in the years ahead?
Stone Rally DT | Image via jpixx
Reimagine our area as a prime beer destination. Refuse to think of Coastal Virginia as a cul-de-sac. We already have a lot to offer to beachgoers in the summer – just ask the friendly folks from Quebec who arrive year after year– yet beer can be enjoyed in every season, and it does not necessarily require one to shower after enjoying it. Recall the crowds at “O’Connoroo,” the grand-opening celebration for O’Connor Brewing Company’s new location on 24th street in Norfolk? There were so many visitors that lines stretched around the block, the brewery literally ran out of beer, and yours truly consumed too many mozzarella sticks from Cogan’s pizza tent. Owing to Stone’s notorious logo and a successful social media campaign, the First Fridays rally as well saw more gargoyle demons in public than a Buffy fan convention. The demand for craft beer is there, and the market is currently being grossly underutilized.
Incentivizing new uses for existing capital is one quick way to make a statement seemingly out of nothing. Norfolk has taken a step in this direction with “Project Footloose,” aimed at allowing existing business spaces to finally be able throw something that resembles a party for only a small permit fee. But easing outdated regulations is not enough – these efforts work best and create lasting change when new economic activity is incentivized. Sure, a downtown rally led by the city is great, but it is not that hard to imagine how lively Granby Street would be if multiple businesses were motivated to have their own nighttime parties in tandem, something like how Music Row does it in Nashville. An economic strategy like this would be cheap, bring out new customers, and now has a permit process already in place.
The up-front costs of realigning the Coastal Virginia brand towards a more craft-centric model are minimal. The name recognition is already here – Virginia Beach is a recognizable brand up and down the coast. For a corollary, consider Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Once upon a time, Rehoboth was a small, quirky resort community nestled between the Ocean City and Jersey Shore beaches. Today, it is still tiny and eclectic, but has also positioned itself as a premium Mid-Atlantic destination for craft beer tourism thanks to Dogfish Head Brewery, nearby 16 Mile Brewing Company, Dominion, and others. Ask yourself: if this can happen in the middle of Delaware, then why not here?
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware | Image
Throughout Stone Brewing’s lengthy and secretive bid process, Hampton Roads, and Norfolk in particular, was highlighted as a top-tier beer destination in regional and national news programming. We proudly became engaged in a water-quality war with Columbus, Ohio (thankfully, the Midwest is scientifically proven to have nothing on our H2O game). Steps were taken to jumpstart the redevelopment process for underused real estate along the banks of the Elizabeth River. Goofy helicopter rides were embarked upon.
Municipalities are clearly willing to spend money to highlight their strengths, and craft beer is our strength. Improved road signage to breweries and signature beer destinations is a good start. However, it is honestly dumbfounding how little our obvious dominance in local and national craft selection has been incorporated into VB Oceanfront commercial marketing efforts. Virginia Beach is one of the largest single-city free beach destinations on the East Coast, and it arguably has the best access to more craft breweries and beerhouses than can be said of beaches from Jersey to South Carolina and beyond. I mean, have you ever tried to get a good beer in Atlantic City? Bueller? Bueller?
One simple strategy to build our beer brand cannot be emphasized enough – support your local scene. It is your patronage that will help our businesses grow and grant our community a larger footprint in the expanding craft market. Plus, there is a lot to look forward to. Not only is Green Flash set to begin operations here soon, but startups like Pleasure House Brewing are appearing in Virginia Beach and activity extends even down to Chesapeake with Big Ugly. New restaurant concepts like Home Republic and Lagerheads, lest we forget the classic 11th Street Taphouse, have brought craft to the oceanfront itself. BeerAdvocate recently recognized the Chelsea Business District in Norfolk with reviews on Smartmouth ales and a write-up on The Birch Bar. If your nearby dive isn’t selling any local offerings on tap, speak up and ask when their next keg of Great Dismal is going to arrive. Hampton Roads is growing into a diverse regional craft beer economy, and we as consumers and beer fans alike need to do everything we can to support it. Heck, a fellow beer nerd once offered to purchase a fill for me at Smartmouth just because I rode a skateboard there, growler in hand. That’s called love, people. Fill of Notch 9, please.
So if you are still down in the dumps regarding our area being passed over for a new Stone Brewing location, don’t break out the tissues just yet. Just go out and grab yourself a fresh, local beer. It will make things all better.