Ravenswood distillery plans apparently dead
RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. -- A group that planned to open a "moonshine distillery" in Ravenswood will now apparently locate it elsewhere in Jackson County, after some local citizens who oppose drinking fought the business.
Appalachian Mountain Distillery plans to open a moonshine distillery in Jackson County. In addition to creating 15 new jobs, the operators hope it will become a tourist attraction as well.
Ravenswood Mayor Michael Ihle had been a big supporter of the project. Members of the city's Planning and Zoning Board recently voted 4-1 to approve it.
Distillery owners originally targeted the now-vacant Cope's Supermarket on Washington Street, a mile north of Ravenswood's City Hall. The supermarket closed in late 2010 after operating for 57 years.
But a small group of people who oppose drinking began gathering petitions against the distillery.
"A few angry people essentially killed the plans," Ihle said last week. "I am embarrassed, ashamed and disgusted. I have been saying what a good place this is to do business."
Ihle said he does not drink. "But I don't think it is a sin. I just choose not to."
Dwayne Freeman, vice president of Appalachian Mountain Distillery, said his company recently decided not to open the distillery in Ravenswood.
"I love Jackson County," Freeman said. "We had people who were against it. We understand that. We are looking into other options, probably in another part of the county. We definitely want to stay in Jackson County.
"But we don't want local people to be upset," he said. "Most people have been so excited about this."
Ronald E. Hensley Jr., of Ravenswood, opposed the distillery and circulated petitions against it in churches and on door-to-door visits, according to a report in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel last week.
Hensley, who did not return telephone calls from the Gazette-Mail, told the Parkersburg newspaper that he had collected 800 signatures against the distillery, which would have been located near his church, the Independent United Brethren Church.
Freeman said the distillery will be a tourist attraction. "We'd like to be as close to the Interstate as possible," he said. "Our operations will be state of the art."
He hopes the new distillery will open its doors in four or five months.
"The mayor of Ravenswood has been wonderful to work with. We thought it might be controversial, but what was really strange to me is that just a few people were able to gather up enough support to fight this," Freeman said.
"We want to go somewhere where we are accepted. A lot of communities have already contacted me, asking me to consider coming to their area. But our heart is in Jackson County."
Freeman said the distiller's "labels will be very, very nice. Even people who don't drink it will display it as a West Virginia icon. We want to do this in a very positive manner. We love this state and want it to be proud of our product."
Jeanie Alfred, a Ravenswood resident for 43 years, said, "I understand that several people in this town feel that alcohol is a vice and that it is not needed. But you can abuse anything -- you can overeat, you can overexercise.
"Ravenswood needs to be more business-friendly. The distillery would have been one of several owned by this company. I think these people were given an unfair shake," said Alfred, who recently retired from Cedar Lakes, a Jackson County conference and recreation center, while her husband retired from Century Aluminum.
Talking about the argument in Ravenswood, Ihle said, "Overall, most people are for it. But you can't please everybody."
The mayor hopes all kinds of businesses come to Ravenswood and Jackson County.
"Let's have some Christian businesses. Let's have a Bible bookstore come to town," Ihle said.
"Our culture has got to change. This kind of an attitude from a few people [opposing the distillery] is not new. We need to change our culture."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5164.