Mount Airy officials have turned on a regulatory tap that is expected to increase the flow locally of a growing business trend, the microbrewery industry.
The microbrewery, or craft beer phenomenon has been catching on around the country in recent years — and the city government has now tipped its glass for that industry to ferment success here.
This included a vote Thursday night on zoning changes aimed at recognizing — and accommodating — microbrewery operations.
City Planning Director Andy Goodall said the intent was to create a microbrewery category similar to one already in place for the winery segment. With Thursday’s action, microbrewery operations can exist in Mount Airy’s B-1 (Central Business), B-2 (General Business), B-4 (Highway Business) and M-1 (Industrial) zones.
“Within the last six months or so, we’ve worked with several businesses that are going to be restaurants/microbreweries,” Goodall explained.
Two are reaching fruition so far, Thirsty Fish on Market Street and Creek Bottom at the former Prime Sirloin location on Rockford Street, according to Goodall.
Part of the appeal for craft brews is the freshness of beer produced locally with higher-quality ingredients, which large companies can’t match. Microbreweries develop their own labels that often are sought out by tourists or connoisseurs.
Commissioner Dean Brown, who also is on the board of directors for the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, believes the microbrewery industry will be a boost for the business community overall.
“Well, it’s going to bring jobs,” Brown said Tuesday, albeit not as many as traditional local employers.
“I don’t think that we’ll have an industry that will bring 200 or 300 people to town,” he said, “so we’re going to have to do it small.”
Regardless of the number of people hired by the microbrewery sector, it will be a plus, Brown said. “Any time we can add jobs, it’s good.”
The city commissioner also acknowledged the notion that some people might not be happy about the growth of alcohol-related enterprises in town.
But he described this as a continuation of other businesses that have located here in recent years, including chain restaurants along the U.S. 601 corridor which serve alcohol such as Chili’s and Ruby Tuesday.
“I don’t think there’s been any unpleasant situations resulting from what we’ve done,” Brown said of the introduction of such businesses to the city.
He also referred to the fact that a winery has opened on North Main Street downtown in recent years. “And it’s been successful and I don’t know of any incidents that have occurred because of it,” Brown said.
The commissioner said there’s no reason to believe the microbrewery industry will be any different.
“Anyone who is critical hasn’t seen how these operations work.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.