Critics sour on idea of distillery

RAVENSWOOD – A distillery could be coming to Ravenswood, creating more than a dozen jobs, but a petition drive is under way protesting it.

The city has approved a business application from Appalachian Mountain Distillery, Mayor Michael Ihle said. Spearheaded by Dwayne Freeman, Appalachian Mountain would make a legal form of moonshine.

The owners are seeking state and federal approvals, Ihle said.

Freeman could not be reached for comment. He is listed as the vice president of the distillery in documents filed with the secretary of state.

“I am excited that a company offering such a unique product understands what a great place the city of Ravenswood is to do business,” Ihle said. “Our strategic location between Parkersburg and Charleston, as well as being on the Ohio River, with direct access to Columbus, Ohio, and a modern rail system helps make us great.”

Appalachian Mountain is planning to remodel the former Cope’s Supermarket owned by Norma Jean Cope at 1101 Washington St. The grocery store closed in late 2010 after 57 years in business.

“The company is leasing the building,” Ihle said. “I am happy to see a vacant building be renewed.”

Ihle didn’t know when renovations would start or when the distillery would begin operations.

“I do not have a projected start date,” he said. “If it exists, I have not heard.”

Ronald E. Hensley Jr. of Ravenswood is against the distillery and is circulating petitions against it through churches and door-to-door. He estimates around 800 signatures have so far been collected.

The distillery would be located across from his church, the Independent United Brethren, 1014 Washington St., Hensley said.

“This is a residential area,” he said.

A rest home is nearby and several backyards abut where the business would be located.

“As a Christian, I am against alcohol,” he said. “I wish this business wasn’t coming here, but if it has to, I wish they would have located it outside the community and away from a residential area.”

Hensley also believes the business would do a retail business where the product will be sold.

The mayor, who has a copy of the petition against the distillery, said many of the signatures were by residents in Ripley, Kenna, Evans, Fairplain, Leon and as far as Charleston.

“I’m not sure Charleston should decide what’s best for Ravenswood,” he said. “An important thing to keep in mind is that the petition is addressed to the company, not the city, and also has no binding force and effect.”

Hensley acknowledges the business will move forward, but he believed he had to do something.

“I had to take a stand against this,” he said.

Ihle said he does not drink, but he supports the right of an individual to do business in the city as long as they follow the rules that apply to everyone.

“I say this not only as a non-drinker, but as someone whose family lives almost directly across the street from the site: Appalachian Mountain Distillery will help breathe life into Ravenswood,” the mayor said. “Along those lines, I will add that the distillery’s future arrival has brought to light long-standing issues with the city’s planning and zoning processes.

“They have been inconsistent with state code, and unfriendly to business,” he said. “I am working diligently to change that, and as a result, further keep my oath to uphold the West Virginia Constitution and make Ravenswood an even better place to do business.”