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A defining feature of the Grand Rapids scene, according to many involved, is its noncompetitive, collaborative nature.
“One thing that I think is really amazing about the craft-beer culture is the fact that it’s all like one family,” said Shawn Blonk, general manager of Grand Rapids Brewing. “We work with [Brewery] Vivant, we have great relationships with Founders. ... We all go to each other’s establishments, not to go, ‘This is what they’re doing wrong; this is what they doing right’ and take ideas, do this and that. It’s more we just enjoy going there, and they enjoy coming here.”
Siciliano said he noticed a boost of civic pride when the RateBeer designations were announced earlier this year, followed by local media coverage. “It was like their team won the Super Bowl. ... They were so proud of it,” he said.
Retail giant Meijer, which is headquartered in Grand Rapids, is in a unique position to ride — and push — the wave. It has made an emphasis of getting Michigan craft beer on its shelves.
“We were kind of riding it together with them,” said Meijer senior buyer beer Doug Bylski. He said that five years ago, Michigan craft beers accounted for less than one-half of 1 percent of the chain’s sales. Now they are about 10 percent. Some Michigan brewers doubled or tripled their Meijer sales in 2012, he said.
“I knew it had potential. But what we’ve seen, especially the acceleration in the last two or three years even, it’s blown us away,” he said. “It’s great. It’s a great thing for the state; it’s good for all of our sales. It’s good for our customers.”
Rick DeVos, the creator of ArtPrize and the spark behind the entrepreneurial incubator and seed capital ventures in Grand Rapids, noted how the city’s ascendance as a craft-beer destination has mixed with other cultural changes there.
“That’s all a part of the continued resurgence of downtown and the wider west Michigan area,” he said. “It’s an exciting thing, another example of people figuring things out, trying things out and doing them in their own way, and that is what creates a unique place.”