Monday, January 15, 2007

Beer Baron Bans Bell's

Larry Bell seems to have gone all Bill Watterson on the state of Illinois, pulling his beer entirely from the hands of a company that he feels won't adequately handle distribution of it.

His old distributor wanted out of the beer business and thus had to sell the rights to Bell's. It seems they came very close to selling them to a company Mr. Bell wanted nothing to do with, so instead of hiring a lawyer to navigate through his rights in the complicated distribution system (or getting them sold to a more reputable distributor), he yanked it from the shelves.

The three-tier system that developed after Prohibition seems similar to the breakup of Hollywood's vertical integration from the Paramount Decrees in 1948, where producers couldn't own their own theaters and distribution chains. Consider Larry Bell, then, to be a film production company that doesn't want its distribution rights sold to exhibitors that will only market two of his five annual movies (and show them with 15 minutes of TV ads!) while filling its theaters with lousy mainstream releases. In this case, the distributor is a tedious middleman who apparently has more clout than the brewers -- which was the cause of his concern.

Regarding Mr. Bell sticking it to the Man, it's good that he's decided to handle business practices that he feels are unfair in a way that sends a message and hits the company where it hurts, in their profit margins of course. It's even better that he has the war chest and clout to pull this off and make an impact with it.

That article didn't give much justification for why Larry felt like dealing with CBS was bad, but this Chicagoist article provides more elaboration with a personal touch:
"From personal experience of having to deal with Chicago Beverage on a weekly basis, we applaud Bell's decision, as do unnamed sources at Union Beverage we called for comment."
There's a glimmer of hope in the comments thread, though. Someone says they're having a "bootlegger's special" at the brew pub in Kalamazoo, where you get 15% off packaged beer with a valid Illinois driver's license!

After his fight with his syndicate, Bill Watterson took a sabbatical from the strip that lasted almost a year. He returned, but only on the condition that papers run his Sunday strip as an unbreakable half-page. Nobody had pulled that off before but it gave him the artistic freedom he wanted. Let's hope Mr. Bell bounces back to Illinois bigger and stronger than ever.

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