The readers of MiBiz.com seem to have an unquenchable thirst for stories related to craft beer and retail.
That’s the takeaway as we look back on the most-read stories published in 2015.
In particular, readers took an interest in Bell’s Brewery Inc.’s trademark dispute with a small North Carolina brewery. In fact, three of the top 10 most-read stories of the year dealt with the dispute, undoubtedly because it was an issue that captivated craft beer fans nationwide.
Additionally, a late-year story published on Nov. 29 about the economic impact of the craft brewing industry in Michigan also managed to sneak into the top 10.
Beyond beer, readers also seemed interested in the retail industry, with stories about Meijer, Family Christian Stores and others posting a strong showing for the year.
Here is a look at what stories were the most popular for 2015:
1. EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Larry Bell ‘unsettled’ by anger toward Bell’s Brewery, personal attacks
Bell’s Brewery Inc. founder Larry Bell was caught off-guard by the uproar and vitriol directed at his company a year after it filed an opposition to a trademark from Sylva, N.C.-based Innovation Brewing. What seemed to Bell like a “run-of-the-mill trademark dispute” spiraled into a firestorm of social media backlash after a report in a North Carolina newspaper detailed the dispute. “This is an adult business and it’s not always emotionally nice,” Bell said. “We try to handle disputes and decisions in an ethical, adult manner. That’s all we can do.”
2. Meijer sells 5 standalone C-stores in greater Grand Rapids, plans to close Flint-area supermarket
Walker-based retailer Meijer Inc. filed a state notice that it planned to close its store in Mt. Morris, near Flint, by May 22, resulting in “separations” involving 248 workers. At the same time, the company also confirmed that it sold five of its convenience stores to Sparta-based American Gas and Oil Inc. The stores included in the deal are located Alpine Township, Byron Township, Kentwood, Greenville and Lansing. None of the affected stores are connected to a Meijer supermarket.
3. EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Reaction pours in over Bell’s Brewing trademark action against N.C. microbrewery
A report in the Asheville Citizen-Times — syndicated in the Detroit Free Press — about a year-old federal trademark dispute involving a small North Carolina microbrewery touched off a wave of negative reaction against Bell’s Brewery Inc. Most of the reaction focused on the perception that Bell’s was bullying its much smaller competitor, Innovation Brewing. The dispute was just the latest in a string of trademark issues involving craft breweries in Michigan and nationwide.
4. Unfair Comparisons? Meijer, other big-box retailers use ‘dark store’ loophole to cut their Michigan property tax bills
Meijer and a growing number of big-box stores have turned to what’s known as “dark store” theory to reduce their property tax assessments in communities across Michigan. Rather than peg their properties’ assessed values to the cost of construction to calculate property tax bills, the retailers argue their assessments should be based on those of comparable stores, oftentimes vacated, empty properties. The reasoning: Retailers build stores with their own unique design features, rendering them functionally obsolete when they open — thus the comparison to so-called dark stores with lower assessments.
5. FutureMark Manistique to close U.P. paper mill
Three years after staving off bankruptcy with support from a state government-backed loan, FutureMark Manistique closed down its operations, resulting in permanent layoffs of 147 employees. In a statement provided to MiBiz, the manufacturer of recycled paper attributed the closure to “large cash needs.” It was the second time in a little over three years that the paper mill ran into trouble. The former Manistique Papers Inc. avoided liquidation only after the state stepped in with a $5 million loan.
6. Bell’s Brewery founder responds to trademark issue
Over the course of a year, Bell’s Brewery asked the owners of Sylva, N.C.-based Innovation Brewing to withdraw a federal trademark registration and offered them a financial settlement to help cover their legal fees and the costs associated with the trademark filing. Bell’s also offered Innovation’s owners settlement options that would allow them to be successful, including coexistence agreements that would allow them to keep the name and expand into other states, according to founder Larry Bell. “Basically, we called them and tried to be nice and play in the sandbox together,” he said, adding, “I guess they didn’t want to play in the sandbox.”
7. Family Christian Stores likely to get new owners in bankruptcy sale
In the middle of the prolonged, controversial and contested bankruptcy process, it became clear that Grand Rapids-based Family Christian Stores would head to auction and have new owners. During a March hearing, the company embraced the process of a section 363 sale and addressed concerns over transparency in Chairman Richard Jackson’s involvement as a previous stalking horse bidder. Ultimately, a new corporate entity controlled by Jackson would be named the successful bidder as the company emerged from bankruptcy.
8. Taqueria plans expansion in Grand Rapids’ growing East Hills neighborhood
With space at a premium for Donkey Taqueria, owner Paul Lee sought — and received — city approval to install a 1950s-style food delivery truck outside the popular East Hills restaurant. The addition will serve as a spot for customers to order to-go food as well as potentially allow for customers dining at Donkey to order appetizers and drinks during times when there’s a waiting list for seating in the main restaurant.
9. Holland-based JR Automation Technologies acquired by NY-based private equity firm Crestview Partners
Grand Rapids-based Huizenga Group made the rare decision to sell off one of its portfolio companies in Holland, Mich.-based JR Automation Technologies LLC. The manufacturer of custom-automation was acquired by Crestview Partners, a private equity firm based in New York City. The deal was announced the same day JR Automation received the 2015 Outstanding Growth Award from the Association for Corporate Growth’s Western Michigan Chapter. Huizenga Group was later named a finalist in the MiBiz M&A Deals of the Year Awards.s
10. Craft brewing industry boosts Michigan economy by $1.85 billion, new report finds
A new study from the Denver-based Brewers Association found that craft breweries in Michigan contributed $1.85 billion in economic impact in the state, up 84 percent from about $1.0 billion two years earlier. Michigan ranked ninth nationally considering the dollar value of the industry’s economic impact. The sector was responsible for 14,773 full-time jobs and paid out $571.6 million in wages. The findings were not a surprise for Rockford Brewing Co. co-founder Seth Rivard, who said his business has been on a growth spurt since opening three years ago.
Also on the list:
11. Detroit’s Atwater Brewing plans Grand Rapids satellite brewery at CWD project
12. Spectrum Health to move 500 employees to downtown Grand Rapids office building
13. W. Michigan craft brewers, distillers seek to maintain culture while balancing push to grow
14. New 12-story spec office tower proposed for GR
15. Retail market can accommodate Trader Joe’s, grocers say
16. Michigan hard cider producers form new industry association
17. West Michigan entrepreneurs partner to develop mobile hop harvester
18. Grand Rapids said to have lowest rental vacancy in the country
19. Fifth Third Bank explores sale of downtown Grand Rapids campus
20. Developer plans two independent projects in Creston neighborhood