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"Beer City USA" label not popular with everyone

6:11 PM, Mar 28, 2013   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) -- The rise in microbreweries and the title of Beer City, USA is putting Grand Rapids' beer-making in the limelight. For the most part, the notoriety has been positive, but we also want to share another voice. For some, all this attention is a reminder of unpleasant times.

We spoke with two recovering alcoholics: Kevin O'Neill, the leader of the Alano Club of Kent County, and James Lochridge, a father of five. The have somewhat different takes on what it's like to see a local beer craze.

Over the last decade or so, the increase in breweries and beer festivals have put Grand Rapids on the national map. We have Beer Week, and were crowned "Beer City USA" and a "Top 10 Vacation City for Beer Lovers."

The praise does not go down easy for everyone, including Lochridge.

"For a town to establish itself as a beer place, is hard, there's alcoholics everywhere," he said.

Lochridge is now six years sober, but says everyday is a struggle. On Sunday, he brought his kids to a family event at Van Andel Arena.

"As we were in line for 1.5 hours, all I could see was bars and all I could think about was having a drink," he said.

There are now 24 breweries across West Michigan, and nine are within the downtown area of Grand Rapids, according to Experience GR. Lochridge says there are many events and places downtown where he wants to take his kids, but says he often avoids the area, and knows other recovering alcoholics that do as well.

"It's hard to say no, especially when you have thousands of others of people walk in before them. Of course they want to follow," he said.

O'Neill used to be one of those people. "Four DUIs, I'm a recovering alcoholic and an addict," he said.

Now five years sober, he leads that crowd on the road to recovery as manager of Alano Club of Kent County, where he sees 40,000 people a year. "We don't go to wet places when we're trying to recover," O'Neill said.

O'Neill says he doesn't have a negative view towards all the Beer City publicity, but says it's like seeing a beer commercial, which he says can influence a certain crowd. "I do think it's difficult. I really do think it's difficult for the younger generation," he said.

Michigan is fifth in the nation in terms of overall brewery licenses, with 110 brewers statewide.

We asked our viewers on Facebook how they felt about the topic, and dozens weighed in. Here are a few viewpoints:

"Just because it's there doesn't mean you should use it...goes for breweries, casinos, potato chips in the stores. You make your own choices." -- Karen Elliott Zimba

"My father was an alcoholic. I watched as he almost destroyed our family with his drinking...It bothers me to know that's what Grand Rapids is known for." -- D'Andre Terpay

"Yes, I lost my husband to alcoholism. However, no matter how much coverage the breweries get, will not change the choices people make in their lives. I chose to drink & drive & lost my driving privileges, which affects my life every day. Regrets? Yes!" -- Christiene Beckley

"Of all the things to be labeled as, Beer City is the last I would advocate for." -- John Mullins

"Like all things in life, it's good to use self control. Just because we have awesome breweries in our area doesn't mean you drink every moment away." -- Kathy Saunders

"I live with an alcoholic who has yet to realize his problem...I personally enjoy them as well, but often feel incredibly guilty when I do because I know it's an issue. I've since avoided most places that even serve alcohol when dining out." -- Jennifer M Zirkle

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