As of around Noon today, over 13,000 people had signed the online petition to save the Rolling Rock Brewery in Latrobe Pennsylvania. The effort is being made after Anheuser-Busch bought the Rolling Rock brand on May 19 from InBev.
But as Greg Clow, of The Bar Towel in Toronto, reminded me, the petition is likely doomed to fail for the simple reason that A-B does not own the brewery and is not the one selling it. Christina Gumola, the woman who wrote last week’s open letter to August A. Busch IV, later wrote to tell me that she did also simultaneously write a letter to InBev and attached the letter she wrote to A-B.
Still, Greg brings up an excellent point that I, and many others, haven’t been focusing on. I think we all got caught up in the moment but the truth is A-B can’t sell what they don’t own. It’s still possible, albeit very unlikely, that public pressure could cause A-B to ask InBev to renegotiate the deal to include the brewery in the sale but adding another $50 million to the deal — which is the rumored asking price — seems pretty farfetched at this point. Undoubtedly, that’s why the two were separated in the original deal. A-B doesn’t need another brewery and now InBev has one with nothing to brew in it.
Today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review makes even that remote possibility virtually impossible. In the article, Dave Peacock, Anheuser-Busch’s VP of business and finance operations, “yesterday reiterated the company has no interest in buying the brewery.”
“Because Anheuser-Busch owns 12 breweries and has the ability and capacity to brew Rolling Rock, we elected to purchase only the beer recipes and brand names, not the brewery operation,” Peacock said. “Like others, we hope InBev is able to sell (the brewery) to a suitable buyer who will maintain the employment.”
Sure he does. That’s just spin control, as Tom Dalldorf pointed out when we spoke Friday, the big breweries (A-B and Miller primarily) have been gobbling up and shutting down historic breweries for decades. That’s what big corporations do, they crush their competition and damn the consequences. In economics parlance, that’s called “externalities.” It’s a euphemistic term like “collateral damage” or “friendly fire” that disguises its true meaning. Externalities are the costs that society pays when big businesses wheel and deal. They’re the brewery closings and unemployment, the loss of tax revenue for a small community and the loss of heritage for everyone. And it may be the way business is done, but it’s those very decisions that are destroying so much of what used to make America great. As big businesses get bigger and bigger, merging with one another to create ever larger Frankenstein-like mega-corporations and international conglomerates who do their banking offshore to avoid paying taxes, it’s you, me and the people of Latrobe who are picking up the bill.
Anhesuer-Busch, in their negotiations for the purchase of Rolling Rock from InBev, knew exactly what the consequences would be for the brewery and the employees who toiled there making Rolling Rock since 1939. They knew InBev would have a devil of a time trying to sell the brewery, knew the employees would lose their livelihoods, knew another piece of American brewing history would die. They simply didn’t care and indeed weren’t allowed to care. Their shareholders wouldn’t let them. So those costs were externalized, meaning A-B and InBev didn’t have to concern themselves with what happens to Richard Pavlik, Christina Gumola’s father. That he will lose his job of over twenty years is somebody else’s problem.
But despite my dire pessimism and even with so much against it, the fight to save Rolling Rock is still worth fighting. Sometimes hopeless battles must be fought on principle alone. It’s the effort that is important. Sometimes it’s enough to know at least you tried.
In the words of Christina:
Of course my efforts may seem far fetched; however if people just accepted being told “no” and didn’t fight for what they believed in then chances are they are not too happy. I’ve always fought for what I believed in and most of the time had positive results by doing so. I am also a realist and understand that nothing may occur as a result of my efforts. At least I know that I tried! Fight for what you believe in — you won’t have the chance for what you want if you just let it go!!