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Landlord, lender evicted Black Star Line brewery

Brewery posted a farewell to customers on Jan. 18 after the business apruptly closed. Brewery posted a farewell to customers on Jan. 18 after the business apruptly closed.

Black Star Line Brewing Co. shined bright in its short-lived time in downtown Hendersonville.

It made news regionally, winning positive coverage for what its founder and owner audaciously described as a pioneering “African American and queer-owned” microbrewery. It made the police blotter when managers reported that someone had made death threats and written racial slurs in an email. As the guest on a statewide public radio interview show, founder and brewer L.A. McCrae described a success story based on her upbringing in the African-American church and her decision to open a brewery in Hendersonville, a quiet retirement haven.
A star that burned too bright, the business abruptly flickered out on Thursday, Jan. 18, when the brewery’s landlord and lender evicted the owners, padlocked the door and called police. Even then, mysterious things went on. Ten hours after the place closed, someone broke in, wrote racial slurs on a wall and took the recording machine that could have captured an image of the perpetrator.
Interviews and a search of public records by the Hendersonville Lightning revealed that the brewery had piled up debt and exhausted the patience of its lender, a nonprofit called Mountain BizWorks, and the owner of the building at 131Third Avenue West, landscape architect Luther Smith.
Black Star Line took over the space that had first been made into a microbrewery by Basic Brewing Co., which closed last Sept. 3. Black Star Line opened seven weeks later after making a deal to buy the brewing equipment from Basic owner Richard Wenger, according to Smith.
“We had a lease with the client and after several months of not paying it we said, ‘You guys need to straighten this out,’” Smith said. “My understanding was Mountain BizWorks put up the funds to buy his equipment to help them start the business.”
Smith said Mountain BizWorks personnel came back to the building on Monday to move out furniture and artwork. When he went down to the basement to check on a water leak, Smith was surprised to learn that the brewery equipment had already been moved out.
“Our concern with everything going on was we couldn’t get the rent from them,” he said. “After three or four months, we said, ‘What’s going on?’” The owners responded that they “didn’t have the funding to even pay our help. The business got out of hand.”

Patrick Fitzsimmons, executive director of Mountain BizWorks, confirmed that the agency had made a startup loan but said the details are not public.
“The reason they went out of business was because the lease on the facility was terminated by their landlord,” he said. Asked why, he said, “nonpayment.”
Mountain Biz Works is a U.S. Treasurer-certified community development lender that helps small businesses that may not qualify for loans from banks and other traditional sources. It makes loans of $1,000 to $250,000 to finance startups.
“We are an SBA intermediary but I can’t say whether that loan was SBA,” Fitzsimmons said. “We also have other sources of funding.”
Asked whether the agency was working with Black Star Line on the loan, he said, “That kind of depends on the client.”

Residential landlord evicts brewery owner

Meanwhile, the owner of the house McCrae was renting on Mountain View Street filed a small claims action to evict McCrae for failing to pay rent. Property owner Stephen Norwood said in the document that the tenant owed $1,455 in rent and had refused to vacate the house.
McCrae said in an interview that the landlord and lender swooped in and closed the business down before she had a chance to bring in the revenue to pay past-due bills.
“The loan was never in default,” she said.
She compares her story to that of the brewery’s namesake. Founded by Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Black Star Line shipping company operated from 1919 to 1922.
“We were drawing the parallel that there was a lot of collusion to keep Black Star Line out of business and to completely humiliate” Garvey. “We’ve experienced something very similar with our closing,” she said. “We would have been able to recover in that location right now if those actions had not been taken.”
After she was evicted on Jan. 18, she never got the chance to retrieve personal belongings from the building, she said.
“The lender and the landlord literally painted over the hate messages that were scrawled on the walls without even telling us what they were,” she said. “We were never notified of the break-in.”
A police report filed on Friday, Jan. 19 listed Mountain BizWorks as the victim, not Black Star Line, because the lending agency had taken possession of the taproom.
Police Chief Herbert Blake said there has been no progress in the investigation of the vandalism, racial threats and break-in.
“The detectives have it,” he said. “They have not developed any leads. It remains open but there have not been leads to follow.”
McCrae said she and four other Black Star workers lived in the Mountain View house off Hebron to save money.
“We did not have the money starting up, so one of the things that we did to reduce cost and be creative was living together,” she said. “The events that were happening would have provided the cash we needed to pay our rent. So the lender making this decision … has rendered employees and team members of Black Star Line homeless. We lost tens of thousands of dollars of revenue because of the way things were handled. It literally forces us out of the community.”
McCrae said the media had “hyper-sensationalized” the news about the brewing company. She added that she’s sorry her venture had to close.
“I take full responsibility for our actions at Black Star Line that we’ve contributed to this situation,” she said. “Just a sincere apology to the community that was gathering at Black Star Line because it was extremely diverse and extremely unique in Henderson County and certainly in Hendersonville. I can count at least a dozen couples who met at Black Star Line Brewing Co. who would not have met otherwise. So it’s extremely unfortunate that this place that at the end of the day was a community center and brewery has been lost. … I felt like I was welcomed in the community even in the midst of the death threats and the vandalism and the break-ins. It’s a loss to me. I’m grieving. It’s a loss on every front and, yes, it’s absolutely devastating.”