In Ypsilanti news comes “Arbor Brewing Co. presents a case study in local business ethics and crowdfunding” the Detroit alternative newspaper metrotimes. I thought I’d share it here because I know that the ABC Microbrewery (aka The Corner) is a place popular with EMU-types. I know the EMU-AAUP has had functions there, my department has hosted at least one official retirement party there (and a lot of unofficial gatherings as well), I’ve met with graduate students there, etc. This article makes me think that maybe it would be best to stop doing those things.
Here’s a long quote from the beginning:
Arbor Brewing Co. owners Matt and Rene Greff’s decision to ask customers to chip in $75,000 via Indiegogo to upgrade ABC Microbrewery’s piecemeal, partly outdoor kitchen to a safer, enclosed space, has sparked a lively discussion among customers and business associates in the Ann Arbor area.
Some labeled the campaign and the Greffs “scummy.” Others swore off ABC’s beer altogether. And many more simply muttered their disapproval, especially as posts celebrating the couple’s globetrotting popped up on social media, and they diverted resources to help open a brewery in Bangalore, India.
At the heart of that debate was the ethics of crowdfunding campaigns and the question: When does it become unethical for an established business to turn to sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to fund basic improvements or expansions?
But ABC went beyond that gray area. A current employee who wished not to be identified tells the Metro Times that the Greffs charted new territory by pressuring staff earning less than a living wage ($9 an hour) to help pay to improve their own work conditions in a kitchen that lacked basics, like walls.
The staffer says employees were then asked to solicit funds from family and friends, and each was given an individual link to the Indiegogo page that would monitor their pull.
Then, with the goal met, the Greffs pink-slipped the kitchen staff.
As that unfolded, it was also revealed to MT that the Greffs have yet to pay back a dime to investors who in 2003 helped finance ABC Microbrewery’s 2006 opening. Mark Maynard, a widely read Ypsilanti blogger, and former Ypsilanti City Councilmember Barry LaRue say they, along with others, each put up at least $10,000 and signed a repayment plan stating investors would triple their money by 2016.
I had heard of the crowdsourcing thing earlier, either on Facebook or markmaynard.com, I can’t remember which. But what I recall at the time thinking was I suppose if people want to give what looks ostensibly like a successful business crowd funding money to be even more successful, well, I guess that’s their right. And maybe there’s a place for it for loved local businesses that have fallen on hard times– for example, Blimpy Burger reopened in Ann Arbor in part as a result of such a campaign.
But I don’t know, this doesn’t sound right to me. I want to support local businesses of course, and The Corner is just a great space for meeting with folks. It’s not quite as crowded and, well, “bar-like” as a regular bar like The Wurst Bar or The Sidetrack or what-have-you, and they also have beer. It’s a neat place to hang out. On the other hand, this article makes the Greffs look pretty sleazy and like borderline crooks to me. I want to patronize cool and local places, but I also don’t want to be taken advantage of by the owners complaining about not paying off their investors or building a kitchen for their employees while sitting on an airplane sipping Bloody Marys on their way to India to open a brewpub.
Hopefully local boy Mark Maynard will have something to say about all this soon.