Marion voters ease restrictions on beer sales

MIKE CONLEY/MCDOWELL NEWS

On Tuesday, voters in Marion showed their strong support for doing away with the old hotel, motel and restaurant (HMR) rule when it came to the on-premise sale of beer. The overwhelming support for doing away with the HMR rule means businesses like Refinery 13 taproom can serve beer without having to operate as a private club. Sarah Jacobs, co-owner of Refinery 13, is serving craft beer to a customer as the results from the election were being celebrated.

Voters in Marion showed their strong support for doing away with the old hotel, motel and restaurant (HMR) rule when it came to the on-premise sale of beer.

The issue of allowing the on-premise sale of malt beverages was on the ballot in the Marion election, along with the mayor and City Council race.

The results were 373 votes, or 72.85 percent, in favor with only 139 votes, or 27.15 percent, in opposition. The overwhelming support for doing away with the HMR rule means businesses like Refinery 13 taproom can serve beer without having to operate as a private club.

Tuesday night, patrons at the taproom were celebrating the results of the special election.

“I think it’s a huge victory for Marion and a huge victory for Refinery 13,” said co-owner Sarah Jacobs to The McDowell News as she waited on customers. “Thank you for the citizens of Marion for promoting growth.”

Late last year, the City Council first heard a request from Sarah and Ryan Jacobs. They asked for a special referendum to do away with an old rule that forced them to open their new business as a private club.

Marion was under a restriction where the only places allowed to sell beer on-premises were hotels, motels and restaurants (HMR). Sarah and Ryan Jacobs said they could not run a restaurant. Their new business, Refinery 13, had to get around this HMR restriction by opening as a private club. Therefore, first-time customers at the new taproom had to fill out an application and pay a $1 fee so they can go in and enjoy some craft beer.

Having to register as a private club in the state of North Carolina is costly for the business owner and more employees have to be hired to monitor and sell the memberships along with keeping track of the paperwork, said Sarah and Ryan Jacobs.

Almost a year ago, they asked the Marion City Council to call for a referendum about removing the HMR restrictions. Such a move required a vote of the people but due to state law it had to wait until this month.

Refinery 13, which has become very popular since it opened in March, features products from breweries in Morganton, Burnsville, Asheville, Brevard, Charlotte and other North Carolina cities.

As of Tuesday night, Refinery 13 had 2,462 members. The money from each one of the $1 fees has gone to support the Friendship Home.

Sarah Jacobs said even with the resounding victory on Tuesday, the change will not be automatic. She still has to withdraw her private club status with the state of North Carolina.

In a similar matter, Brown Mountain Bottleworks in Morganton had to open first as a private club because of the old HMR restrictions there. But in 2015, voters in Morganton voted overwhelmingly to do away with the restrictions. That special vote was done as part of their municipal election as well.

Numerous other cities and towns in North Carolina have likewise removed their HMR restrictions. They include Asheville, Black Mountain, Brevard, Conover, Forest City, Hendersonville, Glen Alpine, Hickory, Lincolnton, Mills River, Newton, Mooresville, Rutherfordton, Statesville, Tryon, Valdese, Waynesville, Weaverville, among many others.

Marion officials previously stated their strong support of having the restriction removed.

“I was very glad it passed by such a wide margin because it indicates there is a strong interest by a lot of people not only about Refinery 13 but other businesses,” said Mayor Steve Little on Wednesday.

This change now allows breweries, meaderies and taprooms inside Marion to serve beer not made at their facilities. For example, a brewery can now serve other beer from another similar operation and a meadery can now serve beer from another place.

Mica Town Brewing is getting closer to opening for business. Keeper’s Cut Meadery is now under construction along West Henderson Street. Another taproom, called Spillway Bridge & Co., is in the works for downtown Marion and it will be located on South Main Street. Marion could also get a second brewery, this one on West Henderson next to the meadery.

The city of Marion already allows for on- and off-premise sale of wine and hard cider, according to information from Mica Town Brewing.

All of this is a positive development for downtown Marion. Businesses of this type are often owned and operated by young entrepreneurs and attract a similar crowd, said city officials.

“This appeals especially to younger adults,” said Little. “That indicates a new demographic of the people coming to downtown Marion. It is not only a good place to have a business but they can be successful financially doing so.”

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