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Craft Distributor Thrives

Apr 14, 2008 - Early last year, with a leased delivery truck and a used keg cooler, Jeff LeVine founded Carolina Craft Distributing, a wholesaler of craft beers.

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A year later, and now selling wine and liquor, LeVine is projecting $3 million in annual sales.

And last month, the Fort Mill resident purchased Charleston's Chavon Distributing, a mainly wine wholesaler, extending his reach from the top of the Palmetto State to the bottom.

"We literally doubled our business overnight," LeVine, 35, said last week in a rare moment of free time.

So, what's the secret to such a meteoric rise from start-up status? LeVine thanks the South Carolina Legislature.

Last April, state lawmakers changed an age-old law that banned beer with more than a 6 percent alcohol volume to allow for alcohol contents in beer up to 17 percent. That opened the door to a new market in South Carolina -- the world of specialty and craft beers, many brewed in small local breweries in other states or countries.

"Because of the wording, South Carolina can now actually sell beer with a higher alcohol content than North Carolina and Georgia," LeVine said, noting neighboring states only allow up to 14 percent alcohol volume. "So, because this is the Bible Belt, I'm sure somebody in Columbia got fired after we figured that out."

Cox said the addition of craft beers in South Carolina has been a boon to other distributors, too. Some of the state's mainstream beer wholesalers have begun carrying a selection of craft beers as bars and restaurants demand the variety, she said.

LeVine, in the beer business since age 20, including a stint in the Czech Republic with a European distributor, said he hopes someday to have headquarters centered in Columbia so he can better serve the whole state. But for now, he's content with his Rock Hill base.

"I couldn't afford to start a new business and move at the same time," he said. "So, Rock Hill it is."

With the purchase of Chavon, LeVine said in coming months he hopes to expand his wine and craft liquor business, where some bottles retail for more than $1,000.


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