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Books: Excerpt from Carla Jean Whitley’s ‘Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City’

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
Carla Jean Whitley, Birmingham Beer

Cheryl Joy Miner

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Carla Jean Whitley’s “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” [aff. link]. She is a features reporter at Alabama Media Group, a freelance writer and a journalism instructor at the University of Alabama and Samford University, plus a good friend.

This is her third(!) book in 13 months, and the second to be featured on this site. (Read an excerpt from her book, “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.”) “Birmingham Beer” traces the century-long rise and fall and rise of local brewing.

In this excerpt, Whitley takes us behind the scenes of the real battle, not in Birmingham but in Montgomery …

• • •

Chapter 6, Brewery Modernization Act

Free the Hops initially identified alcohol limit and container size as its top priorities. After the success of the Gourmet Beer Bill, the organization considered continuing along that path. However, lobbyist Michael Sullivan recommended launching the Brewery Modernization Act instead. Because 2010 was an election year, the Gourmet Bottle Bill was unlikely to see much attention. However, the brewery efforts stood a better chance as a pro-business, economic initiative.

Dan Roberts, of both Free the Hops and Alabama Brewers Guild, explained that the Brewpub Act of 1992 was insufficient because it was so difficult to find an approved location. He, too, expected fairly quick progress with the Brewery Modernization Act since it focused on business operations rather than the alcohol itself. “We are severely limiting the growth of an industry that is finding success and creating jobs in other states,” Roberts said to the Birmingham News. “It’s really about making an environment more friendly for business, which ordinarily we would all be in favor of.”

Five Alabama production breweries were in operation as the Brewery Modernization Act made the legislative rounds in 2011. But if visitors wanted to tour Good People, Madison’s Blue Pants Brewery, Huntsville’s Yellowhammer Brewing, Old Black Bear Brewing or Straight to Ale Brewing, they could admire brewing equipment without appreciating the fruit of its labor. State regulations meant breweries were unable to serve even a sample on site. And by 2011, all brewpubs had closed.

“Why are breweries and brewpubs under different legislation? At the end of the day, they both manufacture beer,” Stuart Carter said to the Birmingham News.

“Everything about it [the Brewpub Act of 1992] is set up to make a brewpub fail,” Carter told Birmingham magazine. Why should 21st-century businesses be bound to Prohibition-era precedents? The proposed legislation would loosen the historic district requirements and allow taprooms in breweries. But the Brewery Modernization Act, which passed the Senate, didn’t get a final vote in the House because time ran out.

“Alabama law will not allow us to even charge $5 for a tour followed by free beer tastings like they can at wineries. Why are we treated differently?” Craig Shaw asked the Birmingham News. Shaw was brew master at Avondale Brewing Company, which was gearing up for business as the legislation went through the 2011 session.

That wasn’t the only lost opportunity. Because of the existing laws, Alabama breweries — and therefore the state itself — missed out on tourism dollars, proponents said.

“In many states, breweries are tourist destinations. Our phones are ringing and our email inboxes are filling with travelers looking for interesting places to stop while heading to the beach, in town for business, or looking for places to take their out-of-town guests. Currently we must deny their request for tours or to sample our products at the brewery,” the Alabama Brewers Guild wrote in its statement supporting the Brewery Modernization Act.

“That’s what it’s all about — enabling Alabama business to grow,” Roberts, the ABG’s executive director, explained to the Birmingham News. “If you go to other states, taprooms are the most common things in the world. Tasting rooms and tours are the way small breweries grow their brand. When you’re dealing with beer on this level, it’s not a commodity like the big beer brands.”

“At a time when we need more job creation and economic activity, our laws are preventing growth in one of the industries that is trying to grow here,” past Free the Hops president Stuart Carter said to the Birmingham News.

“It’s taken the hard work of hundreds of craft beer makers several years to change things. Of the 50 million cases of beer sold in Alabama last year, wouldn’t it be better if more of that revenue stayed in this state?” Back Forty’s Jason Wilson asked the News.

The city’s existing brewery and brewery-in-the-making both hoped to utilize freedoms a successful bill would offer. The repeal of brewpub laws would allow for on-site taprooms at Good People, Avondale and any breweries to come.

“At the end of the day, it’s about two things: economic development and competitiveness for Alabama businesses. It’s a travesty we can’t have a group of tourists stop by our brewery, show them around, sell them a pint of beer, talk to them about our brewery and Birmingham, tell them which grocery stores carry our products and recommend a great lunch stop or a hotel. We are constantly contacted by out-of-town people wanting to stop by the brewery to buy a pint of beer, and upon our explaining the restrictions of Alabama law, I doubt many people take the exit off of I-65,” Good People brewmaster Jason Malone told Black and White City Paper. He noted that taproom revenue would help subsidize brewery growth.

Likewise, the paper noted that breweries could stimulate growth in other ways. “Avondale Brewing’s [Coby] Lake says that he and his partners advocate SB 192 because they have spent considerable dollars to renovate a building that could easily become a hotspot in a Birmingham neighborhood that has been challenged for years,” the paper’s Chuck Geiss wrote.

Free the Hops’ Gabe Harris explained in the same article:

“The Brewery Modernization Act will help create jobs and revive dying neighborhoods in local communities. In addition, this bill allows brewpubs to provide tours and samples, which in turn would increase receipts from such taxes that go straight into Alabama’s education fund. Existing data supports how the earlier legislation has benefited the businesses that are now carrying these beers and all the things that our opponents once railed against simply haven’t happened.”

Budweiser Boycott

The act’s proponents ran into another obstacle before the bill could come up for vote, and a surprising one: an area distributor. In April 2011, Birmingham Budweiser, the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, worked against the bill. Gadsden’s Back Forty Brewing co-founder Jason Wilson said distributors worried that, with breweries being allowed to sell beer on premises, larger breweries like Anheuser-Busch and Coors could challenge the three-tier system. That system requires manufacturers to sell their beer to distributors, which then sell to stores. If breweries were permitted to self-distribute, Wilson explained to the (Mobile) Press-Register, distributors could see their business decline.

Free the Hops (by then 1,700 members strong) quickly called for a boycott of all beer carried by Birmingham Budweiser, which meant not only avoiding products such as Budweiser but also national and even local favorites, including Back Forty.
Harris told Black and White City Paper:

“Anheuser-Busch and their individual distributors have every right to work the legislature against the Brewery Modernization Act. They can be opposed to a jobs-creating, economic development bill that would benefit local business. They can oppose craft beer and Free the Hops. But the craft beer community and Free the Hops can oppose them, too. Anheuser-Busch products and products from their distribution network are now banned from Free the Hops events. This will have its first big effect on the Rocket City Brewfest and will continue with the Magic City Brewfest unless the Brewery Modernization Act becomes law in a form we find acceptable. The state can support many more breweries and we think it is in the best interest of consumers, the economy and the state to see [the legislation] move forward.”

(In 2012, the Alabama Wineries Association called for a similar boycott on beers distributed by opponents to a bill that some said aimed to create an exception to the three-tier system for wineries alone.)

It wasn’t a decision Free the Hops members took easily, the organization’s Stuart Carter explained to the Birmingham News:

“The only power we have is the content of our wallets. What we’re saying with this boycott is we as consumers don’t want to be channeling profits to wholesalers who are using those profits to prevent other consumers from getting the beer we want to drink. This is hurting friends, either friends we know or friends who brew the beer we love to drink. The problem is they’re the innocents in this who are caught in the crossfire.”

Those beers would have been excluded from Huntsville’s Rocket City Brewfest and Birmingham’s Magic City Brewfest had negotiations not resulted in a compromise prior to the events. But within weeks, the parties reached an agreement. Free the Hops conceded to maintain a distinction between brewpubs and production breweries. As a result, breweries were allowed to offer tastings without restriction or an additional license, but sales were limited to on-site consumption. Draft-to-go must still be purchased elsewhere. Brewpubs, on the other hand, still faced a number of the existing restrictions. Some were modified: the historic requirement was expanded to include economically distressed areas as determined by the municipality, not just a historic building; they were allowed to sell to wholesalers for outside distribution; and while a restaurant was still necessary, the minimum seating requirement was eliminated. This compromise was necessary in part because distributors wanted the brewpub license to remain special and limited.

On the Free the Hops blog, Alabama Brewers Guild executive director Dan Roberts wrote that the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), favored the economically distressed area addition. “Does an area with an empty building — a building that would be perfect for a brewpub — constitute an economically distressed area? That’s up to a city council,” Roberts wrote.

In addressing the media, he explained that the compromise was preferable to the alternative. “It will not be everything we wanted, but it is definitely a workable solution and represents a significant improvement over the current restrictions,” he told the Birmingham News. “We were not going to get everything we wanted. The bill we ended up with is still a vast improvement over what we currently have.”

Jason Malone echoed those sentiments in an interview with the paper. “Anything in the right direction is better than the current status quo. Obviously, some compromises did have to be made, and while we would have rather not had to give up anything that we were going after, that’s not realistic.”

Moving Forward

Birmingham Budweiser became a top-level member of Free the Hops after the gourmet beer boycott, and the legislation gained forward momentum. On June 1, 2011, the Brewery Modernization Act passed the Senate and awaited Gov. Robert Bentley’s signature. Many worried that he would veto the bill, but Bentley explained that responsibilities as governor differed from those of state representative. “When I represented my local community, I voted against Sunday alcohol sales and things of that nature,” he said to the Birmingham News. “As governor, it’s a little bit different. I don’t feel I should impose my views on everybody in the state. The legislature has had a chance to look at it and passed it. I’m sure I will sign it.”

He did so, and Free the Hops again celebrated success. “It’s the biggest change in Alabama brewing laws since the repeal of Prohibition,” then Free the Hops president Gabe Harris told the Associated Press. The bill was expected to result in more breweries and brewpubs opening in the state. The bill opened up the viability of the businesses by creating additional revenue opportunities.

“The state will be able to print a beer tour map of the state where people can go from Huntsville to Mobile visiting brew pubs and breweries,” Carter said to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Kline also rejoiced in the organization’s success. “We went from taking 5 years on a bill to taking 2 years on a bill,” Kline said. “There was starting to be some clear economic impact from craft beer that people could see and quantify. Free the Hops had gained the reputation of only advocating bills that do good things, as opposed to bills that do bad things. So it got easier each time,” Kline said.

The economic impact was evident almost immediately: The state’s brewery production increased by 672.19 percent in the year following the bill’s passage. Following the passage of the bill, brewpubs were able to sell beer to wholesalers, which could then distribute the beer. It didn’t stop there. Between 2012 and 2013, United States breweries increased production by nearly 15 percent, and in Alabama, the growth was even more significant: at 22.35 percent. “The thing that I think has spawned all of the growth in the industry is the taprooms. That really gives you a ready revenue source rather than having to wait 30 days for a wholesaler to pay,” Good People Brewing Co. co-owner Michael Sellers told the Associated Press. He said the brewery’s taproom would create additional jobs, and his business partner, Jason Malone, indicated expectations for continued growth. “I’m excited about where the market is headed in Alabama as people get more tuned into how much better craft beer is. We’ve come a long way and I think this trend is here to stay,” he said to the Birmingham News as Avondale prepared to open.

Although Avondale debuted later that year, it was far from the last brewery to reap the legislation’s benefits. Although only five breweries existed in Alabama as the Brewery Modernization Act began circulating through the legislature, thirteen were in operation by 2014.

In 2014, Alabama Brewers Guild president and Back Forty co-founder Jason Wilson attributed that to the act. “So when you prohibit these small microbreweries from doing things like selling pints at their production facility, that’s the difference between a profitable and an unprofitable business model. The slightest restriction you impose on them can mean the difference between it being successful and failing,” he told Business Alabama. “Since these pieces of legislation have passed, we haven’t seen a single brewery shut down in the last five years. That’s a testament to the impact this legislation has had.”

• • •

Carla Jean Whitley has book signings for “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” throughout the rest of summer and fall:

  • Thursday: 4-7 p.m., Trim Tab Brewing Co., Lakeview
  • Saturday: 2-4 p.m., Books-A-Million, Brookwood Village, Homewood
  • Aug. 12: 5:30-7 p.m., Neighborhood Hops and Vine, Homewood
  • Aug. 13: 5:30-7 p.m., Neighborhood Hops and Vine, Crestline Park
  • Aug. 14: 5-7 p.m., Little Professor Book Center, Homewood
  • Aug. 15: 1-3 p.m., Vulcan Park
  • Sept. 4: 5-8 p.m., Good People Brewing Co., Southside
  • Oct. 9: 7 p.m., Hoover Public Library

“Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” (July 27, Arcadia Publishing)

Carla Jean Whitley

‘Roadtrip Nation’ special stops in Birmingham

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Video: “Roadtrip Nation” special, “Why Not Us?”
[Birmingham at 35:36]

PBS series “Roadtrip Nation” changed its format for 2015. The reality documentary show typically follows three college-age participants traveling across the country in a green RV to interview interesting people.

The goal is to discover how they ended up where they are in their career, providing inspiration for those seeking the path forward.

This year’s trip covered the same distance in a far shorter period, but still managing to squeeze in a stop in Birmingham.

The four roadtrippers shared one trait: Each one was the first in their family to attend college. And their journey was not shown in a dozen half-hour episodes that usually comprise a full season, but a 1-hour special titled “Why Not Us?”

The team stopped to interview Odessa Woolfolk, founding president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (found at 35:36 in the video). Also featured in the clip is Barry McNealy, a tour guide and high school social studies teacher.

See the interview and its impact on the “Roadtrip Nation” crew.

“Why Not Us?” will re-air on APT 10.2 World Channel at 6 p.m. Sunday, 4 a.m. Monday, 5 p.m. July 7 and 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. July 8.

Roadtrip Nation, Why Not Us?

“Why Not Us?” features (clockwise from top left)
Johnathan Allen, Jennifer Rogers, Jasmine Johnson
and Felipe Hernandez.

Roadtrip Nation - Birmingham

‘The Great Invisible,’ 5 years after the BP oil spill

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Video: “The Great Invisible”

Monday marked the 5th anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers and dumping countless barrels of oil into the surrounding water. Tar balls from the disaster continued to wash ashore on Alabama beaches as late as 2013.

The PBS series “Independent Lens” aired the national premiere of “The Great Invisible,” a 2014 documentary by Mobile’s Margaret Brown on the biggest oil spill in American history. It won the South by Southwest festival award for documentary feature.

The film looks at life after the explosion and its impact on the Gulf Coast.

Reviewers have praised the doc:

  • Entertainment Weekly: “A sobering look at a part of coastal America that will never be the same again. A-.”
  • The Hollywood Reporter: “A powerful documentary that reminds those of us who’ve moved on to other worries that this one is far from finished.”
  • Variety: “A uniquely thought-provoking chronicle of an event that, in the absence of any real preventive action taken by oil companies or the U.S. government, calls out for further cinematic and journalistic attention.”

“The Great Invisible” streams online through May 21.

Latham Smith, The Great Invisible

Tugboat captain Latham Smith

Deepwater Horizon, The Great Invisible

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig

“The Great Invisible”

MSNBC features Mountain Brook Chamber’s Live Local program

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Video: “Your Business” segment on Mountain Brook’s
“Live Local” program

The MSNBC show “Your Business” came to Birmingham in the fall to film a segment on shopping locally.

Producers focused on the Live Local program from the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce, in which shoppers are encouraged to visit area merchants on Saturdays. Included are chamber director Suzan Doidge and Chez Lulu/Continental Bakery owner Carole Griffin.

The show with the Mountain Brook segment aired originally in November.


Chez Lulu, Continental Bakery, Carole Griffin

Carole Griffin, owner of Chez Lulu and Continental Bakery
in Mountain Brook, is featured in an MSNBC report
on shopping locally.

The $1 billion question: Can UAB afford to keep Watts as president?

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Alumni upset over UAB’s decision to drop football
have responded on donation request cards.

In college, I had to make cold calls to alumni to solicit donations. They weren’t just any alumni, and it wasn’t for just any gigantic endowment fund.

I played in marching band every year, and it costs thousands of dollars to maintain uniforms, rent buses and buy and repair instruments. I called “bandies” to catch them up on recent shows, but more importantly, hit them up for cash.

I have a soft spot for those tasked with fund-raising for their schools and causes. It’s not an easy job.
Campaign for UAB

The most recent posted update for the Campaign for UAB

One Birmingham institution is in the middle — nearly dead center — of its $1 billion drive, the Campaign for UAB. As of Oct. 31, it had raised $534 million. It may be closer to the end than anyone knows.

The events of the last couple of months have changed the momentum:

  • Nov. 29: The football team wins its final season game, making it bowl eligible for the first time in 10 years. Bill Clark would later be named Conference USA Coach of the Year.
  • Dec. 2: President Ray Watts announces he is dropping the football, rifle and bowling teams.
  • Last week: Graduate Student Government passes resolution of no confidence in Watts.
  • Friday: Watts speaks publicly for the first time since Dec. 2, announcing an independent review of the numbers that led to his decision.
  • Tuesday: Undergraduate Student Government Association passes resolution of no confidence in Watts.
  • This morning: Faculty Senate passes resolution of no confidence in Watts.

Video: Susan Key explains the Faculty Senate vote.

Following the Senate vote, Susan Key of the Collat School of Business told a reporter, “It’s the first ‘no confidence’ vote in Alabama that I’ve ever heard of. … You really can’t lead if you don’t have any followers behind you.”

It’s telling that the faculty’s no confidence resolution barely mentions football or athletics at all; their dispute is over a lack of shared governance during Watts’ 22 months in office. His round of secret, closed door meetings with segments of the university appear to have had little effect, except to illuminate his discomfort with transparency.

Off campus, a number of cities including Birmingham proper have passed their own resolutions supporting UAB football.

Video: overview of today’s no confidence vote from UAB faculty

Ray WattsWatts said in a statement, written and video, that he would continue to work hard as president to regain trust and build consensus. The UA board of trustees, his employer, has also said it would continue to support him.

It’s clear that the Free UAB movement has built a coalition of students, employees, alumni, fans and donors that has real clout. In 6 weeks, it has gained widespread support on campus and appears to move quickly, even as the administration response has seemed almost glacially slow.

But the resolutions are symbolic, and it’s unclear whether recent similar votes of no confidence at other campuses nationwide have had any effect.

The $1 billion question is how it will impact fund-raising, and to a lesser extent, enrollment. It may take years to determine if students are staying away in droves from UAB, but only months to see if donations dry up.

The Campaign for UAB, launched in October 2013, is intended for research, economic development, faculty recruitment and construction. Disappearing dollars will not only hurt the school but also the city.

The good news is that the campaign reached the halfway point in under a year, with the original end date of 2018. The bad news is the school could extend the deadline to 2118 and still not raise the other $500 million.

UAB expects to raise $35 million from faculty and staff. If we assume that half has been raised, it’s likely they can kiss the other $17.5 million goodbye.

UAB expects a drop in support because of the announcement, based on findings in the increasingly flimsy CarrSports report. One Birmingham business owner has already canceled his $1 million commitment based on the football decision.

The alumni in Free UAB have been vocal about their commitment not to donate until Watts is removed from office and football is restored. They have posted numerous photos of pledge cards with large handwritten cries of “Not another dime” and “Fire Ray Watts” (shown above).

UAB and the UA board of trustees must decide whose numbers matter more, before they become dire.

Johnny Johns, best known as CEO of Protective Life, has a dual role as UA trustee and co-chair of the Campaign for UAB. He can either back up his hatchet man Watts or he can attempt to rescue the $500 million in future donations, but he can’t do both.

I know from firsthand experience the challenges of raising thousands of dollars for nonprofit organizations. I learned a lot from manning the phones back in my college days, especially about how institutional reputation could make or break my pitch long before I opened my mouth.

Let’s see the month-to-month numbers behind the giving in the Campaign for UAB. They can paint a picture far more vivid than the hollow repeated promises of a puppet president.

Watts costs $2,338.26 a day in salary. But keeping him could cost UAB and Birmingham thousands, maybe millions, of dollars in the long run.

Internal debate: Does Birmingham benefit from cheap gas?

Friday, December 26th, 2014

Area stations offer gas for less than $2/gallon, lowest since 2009

Birmingham gas stations

Motorists, start your pumps.

BirminghamGasPrices.com reports that four stations in the Birmingham area have gas under $2 per gallon. Prices haven’t been this low since early 2009.

  • $1.89/gal.: Marathon, near the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport
  • $1.95/gal.: Anis Food Mart, Bessemer
  • $1.96/gal.: Citgo, Bessemer
  • $1.99/gal.: Mystik, Ensley Highlands

The debate: Are low gas prices good for Birmingham?

Pro: Birminghamians need all the economic help they can get in a sluggish economy.

Con: Short-term economic benefits could cost residents in the long run: pollution, traffic, health problems.

Pro: Most stations are locally owned … shop local.

Con: Stations typically make their money on big markups on food and beverages.

Pro: Lower income workers will benefit the most from cheap gas.

Con: Fixing public transit would benefit more people overall.

Pro: Families won’t have to choose between filling the tank and other necessities.

Con: Low gas prices encourage purchases of SUVs and gas guzzlers.

Pro: Alabama makes those gas guzzlers!

Pro: People will drive more.

Con: Rush hour jams will be even worse.

Are low prices at the pump good for Birmingham? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Gas station

Photo: Riza Nugraha (CC)

Green and gold and black and blue: On the murder of UAB sports

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

UAB Marshall

Blazer tight end Kennard Backman leaps as UAB faces
No. 18 Marshall in its final home game.

Author’s note: In the past, I have worked in my capacity as a communications consultant for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Summary: After the loss of its football program, UAB must fire its president and leave the UA system to avoid future calamity.

Dec. 2 would have been a news-filled day without the end of UAB football, and bowling, and rifle.

• Pat Sullivan, a beloved Auburn quarterback and 1972 Heisman winner, stepped down as Samford’s football coach after seven seasons. He turned around a program even as he battled health issues.

• Charles Krulak announced his retirement as president of Birmingham-Southern College, ending in May. His 4-year service brought about a remarkable turnaround for a school drowning in a surprise $67 million debt. Before coming to Birmingham, Krulak served as U.S. Marine Commandant general and MBNA vice president.

UAB would see its own share of departing coaches and a different kind of turnaround from its leader.

Dr. Ray Watts, barely 22 months into his tenure as president, has forged an ugly legacy. He has done so through his unwavering service to the University of Alabama system trustees, rather than UAB’s students and employees, not to mention Birmingham proper (that bothersome B in UAB).

Watts managed to murder UAB football, after a history of 23 years, a 117–150–2 record, plus one bowl game. Caught in the crossfire were UAB’s bowling and rifle teams. He pulled the trigger, and the board of trustees gave him the gun.

UAB is the only FBS school in 19 years to drop football; University of the Pacific ended its program in 1995. Twenty schools have added football or moved up to FBS in that period, including Troy (which welcomed a new coach Monday) and South Alabama (headed to the first Camellia Bowl, Dec. 20 in Montgomery).

His leadership has been laughably disastrous, and UAB should find a way to oust him as soon as possible.

Previously: Should UAB football continue?

Some saw the warning signs earlier. Justin Craft, a former UAB player and member of the UAB Football Foundation, sounded the alarm in a Nov. 5 letter. New coach Bill Clark, who would lead the team to a 6-6 record and a possible bowl game, wasn’t being considered for an extension on his paltry 3-year contract; no non-conference games beyond 2016 were being discussed.

Watts met with Craft on Halloween, but Craft said he received no definitive answers from Watts about the program’s future.

Watts’ public statement offered no hope, referring only to a consulting firm’s report (below) that would determine football’s fate.

Over at Samford, Sullivan leaves a hero as the all-time leader in victories and a string of winning seasons. Attendance hovered just under 5,000. The Bulldogs made the FCS playoffs in 2013, the first time in more than 20 years.

Clark pulled off his mini-turnaround in a single season without an on-campus stadium, without an indoor practice facility (Mayor Bell and the UAB Football Foundation offered to foot the $10 million bill), without the support of UAB’s top official.

In seeing a couple of UAB games over the years as a guest of the university, I remember talking with then-president Carol Garrison at the tailgate party. She has chatted up guests at the pre-game receptions, talked to the squad in the locker room and graced the luxury box at Legion Field.

Watts, to anyone’s knowledge, hasn’t been to any of this year’s six home games at rickety old Legion Field, where attendance more than doubled.

Video: UAB president Ray Watts meets the football team
(perhaps for the first time) to kill the program.

Samford, of course, is a private institution with autonomy and lower expectations in the FCS division. UAB is part of the UA system, represented on a board with only four UAB alumni out of 15 members (the rest UA alums), though UAB brings in three times the revenue.

On Saturday, UAB beat Southern Miss on the road for its sixth win, becoming bowl eligible for only the second the fourth time in program history. The Football Writers Association of America gave the Blazers its Big Game National Team of the Week award.

On Sunday, Sports Illustrated broke the story that UAB was about to dump football. Watts was silent, away on vacation in New York for Thanksgiving weekend.

On Monday, hundreds of student protestors marched to the administration building and demanded answers. Watts’ campus parking space was vacant. Watts, in hiding from his own students, offered a statement nearly identical to the one from a few weeks before.

On Tuesday, protestors again marched to the administration building. Watts could drag this out no longer, his office announcing a meeting with the football team at 2 p.m. and a media conference at 3:30. During the afternoon, the official word came by email: UAB would eliminate the football, bowling and rifle programs.

Watts emailed students. He didn’t announce it in person first to students. He emailed it. And not to alumni, even as student volunteers continued to place fund-raising calls for the $1 billion Campaign for UAB.

The school begs for money, but when alumni and the City of Birmingham offered millions of dollars, Watts said no.

Football was the real target. And it was an easy one: It loses money, as most FBS programs do. Even Auburn, which played for a national championship this year. He said as much during a closed meeting to a disbelieving group of players, who confronted him about his singular focus on the numbers.

When Watts tried to slip out the back door after that meeting, an angry mob of students shouted and lunged at him, pounding on the SUV taking him to the media conference. He needed an armed escort to make it to the vehicle.

Watts explained his position to the media, citing the consulting firm’s report that estimates UAB athletics’ spending at $100 million total over the next 5 years while mentioning the university’s cancer research.

He played the cancer card, even though research funding through grants isn’t the same as athletics revenue through conferences, television, licensing and donations.

CarrSports Consulting report for UAB on how to
cut football, 16 pages

CarrSports Consulting report for James Madison University
on how to move up to the FBS division, 65 pages

The report from CarrSports Consulting has been in the offing for months, even when Clark was hired as football coach in January. It’s less a consideration of the question of football and more a how-to guide on dropping football.

Title IX requires a balance of men’s and women’s sports in number and participation, so out go rifle and bowling’s all-female teams after football. In come men’s cross country and track to keep the university in NCAA Division I sports.

UAB will get the boot from Conference USA, which requires members to sponsor a football team. Ironically, the conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will take place March 11-14 at the BJCC Arena and on campus at Bartow Arena.

The financial intangibles muddy the picture, such as in enrollment, Blazer merchandise and donations.

Chuck Krulak has received accolades not only for his fund-raising at Birmingham-Southern, but his hands-on attitude, living in the dorms, eating daily in the cafeteria. Many alumni were justly concerned about the school’s financial malpractice, but he won them over in his first year by putting the college in the black for the first time in 7 years.

Krulak never took a salary during his 4 years on the job. Watts’ annual salary is $853,464, the 11th highest among American public universities. But Birmingham-Southern is a small, private college, one that resumed its Division III football program in 2007 after a 68-year hiatus. UAB has more faculty members than BSC has students.

In August, Krulak co-wrote an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune asking President Obama to force the military and CIA to come clean on the use of torture in Iraq. He shows courage and leadership in financial, practical and moral issues.

Watts demonstrates no such courage, no such knack for leadership. He displays no grasp of candor, no backbone, no vision for making the university and her students stronger and smarter.

He will drag UAB, Birmingham’s largest employer, into an abyss.

The first step is clear: My pal Steven E. Chappell named his new site FireRayWatts.com.

Don’t look for help from the UA board of trustees, which denies any involvement. The same board that approves all UAB athletic personnel contracts (bye bye, Jimbo Fisher) and nixed plans for an on-campus stadium in 2011. The same board that bows to the dictates of the overly influential trustee Paul Bryant Jr.

And don’t look for help from ex officio board member Gov. Bentley. Bryant donated $25,000 to his re-election campaign, as editor Jeff Poor noted.

Purge Watts, this sorry, gutless wonder, from campus as soon as possible.

The second step will be more difficult. Because none of this was really about football. It’s about self-determination.

UAB cannot function with absentee landlords, as reporter Kyle Whitmire notes in his al.com essay. He likens UAB to UA’s plantation, great for the masters and terrible for Birmingham. (As I would liken al.com/Birmingham News to Advance Digital’s plantation …)

Since Birmingham cannot hope to win over the trustees, it must wrest UAB from the UA system. Let the trustees bat around the Huntsville campus instead.

UAB must have autonomy or face the whims of an untrustworthy board, one that can and will make decisions that continue to damage the city’s crown jewel. What next … academics, research, the arts, new construction, housing? Imagine a worse successor as university president. Imagine fewer amenities to attract top professors, undergraduate applicants and research dollars.

Only a month ago, the suggestion of decimating UAB football would’ve seemed crazy.

It will take the authority of the Legislature to grant such a divorce from the UA system. Last week, Rep. Jack Williams proposed a bill to remake the board, but a far more drastic reshuffling is required.

The Blazers won’t play again in Birmingham, but if they’re very lucky, they might still go to a bowl game at 6-6. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy is alone in picking UAB for any bowl: the first Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl vs. Western Michigan on Christmas Eve.

It’s one last chance for those orphaned players and coach to shine before a national TV audience and perhaps find new schools that won’t lie to them and use them up for sport.

P.S. Columnist John Archibald writes an epitaph for UAB football: “In the end we lost again, because Birmingham did not support its own. … Support local sport. High schools and colleges …”

If only his employer, Alabama Media Group, had followed his advice, instead of giving the Blazers such inadequate coverage during the season …

• • •

  • Kevin Scarbinsky, al.com: “Ray Watts and his balance sheet kill UAB football, and strong men shed honest tears”
  • Jon Solomon, CBS Sports: “The day UAB football died a painful death”
  • New York Times: “It’s a Game of Spiraling Costs, So a College Tosses Out Football”
  • Kyle Whitmire, al.com: “The leader vs the lackey: UAB’s Ray Watts could learn a lot from BSC’s Charles Krulak”
  • John Archibald, al.com: “Evidence mounts that killing of UAB football was premeditated”

What are your thoughts on UAB, football, self-governance and the future? Share them in the comments.

German Christmas market coming Saturday to downtown

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Das Haus, Weihnachtsmarkt

 The Weihnachtsmarkt will have vendors offering ornaments,
gifts and more for shoppers.

Das Haus will hold its fourth annual Weihnachtsmarkt. Based on a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, this Christmas market will have arts and crafts, ornaments, trees and gifts.

Also available for sale are German beer, mulled wine or Glühwein, plus brats on buns, pretzels, potato pancakes or Kartoffelpuffer and pastries.

The day includes musical performances, children’s entertainers and a visit from Santa Claus.

The free event runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Das Haus, 2318 Second Ave. N., downtown [map]. For more information, visit the Facebook event page or email fdskgermanclub@gmail.com.

Das Haus

Books: Excerpt from Chelsea Berler’s ‘The Curious One’

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Chelsea Berler, The Curious One

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Chelsea Berler’s autobiographical book, “The Curious One: From Food Stamps to CEO — One Woman’s Journey through Struggle, Tragedy, Success and Love” [aff. link]. She is the founder and the chief executive officer of the Solamar Agency, a marketing firm in North Shelby County.

Berler discusses a moment of revelation in working on taxes and growing her young company.

• • •


“I’m not telling you it is going to be easy,
I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

— Art Williams

The Big Moment came when I was doing my taxes. I know, figuring out what number you have to write on that check to Uncle Sam is not usually the most exciting time in a person’s life. But for me, it was a huge moment, one that had major significance.

It was about 2 years ago. I was 27 years old, and I’d been running my own business, Solamar Agency, for about 5 years.

One of my very dear friends was our financial guy (and still is). He’d been with us the whole time. Since the beginning. But when we started out, we were really, really small. So while he was taking care of all the financial stuff for me, I never really thought much about it.

In fact, because I was so focused on serving my clients and my team and putting one foot in front of the other and just doing my work, I never really paid all that much attention to the reports he sent me at the end of every month, year after year. You know, those profit-and-loss statements with the numbers on it that explained just how much money we were making every month?

But then I got that one, life-changing year-end report. And it said my company made about $500,000 that year.

Me. At 27. Just made half a million dollars.

Wait a second … how did this happen?

I sat there and kind of stared at the number on the report, like it would suddenly make perfect sense to me if I looked at it long and hard enough.

Or maybe the “5” would suddenly turn into a “2” … or some other, more reasonable, number that made more sense to me.

But that didn’t happen. It wasn’t going to happen. Because as I sat there staring at the paper, it started to sink in.

Maybe it did make sense. Maybe it really was possible.

I thought back over the years I’d been running my business. Basically, what I’d been doing was working my tail off. I was going through a lot — I’d gotten my second divorce (yes, at 24—more on that later …) and the way I dealt with it was just by working, working, working.

That was pretty much my coping mechanism for any sort of problem that might come up in my life. I worked my way through it. It gave me something positive to do that distracted me from whatever was making me feel crappy at the time.

Not like I was super-ambitious or some major planner. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about my goals, or where the business was going, or even if the business was going. For me, the simple fact that I was getting some money at the end of the month after making payroll and paying all the other bills was like, “This is great.”

Eventually, I got over the divorce and met an incredible man. But I kept on working. It was the way I defined myself.

And looking at that report, and at the giant, massive, very grownup number on it, I realized what had been sneaking up on me for years.

All that work had paid off. I really did have a real business.

This was a real thing.

Maybe the fact that, right around the same time, we had opened up our first physical office could have provided a clue. Some sort of “Hey, progress is being made here” kind of message. But I never really equated opening the office with “success.” It was more about my lifestyle. I had been a hermit for such a long time, sitting at my computer in my house working, that basically, I just wanted to get out of the house. I wanted to have a place to go to work, and people to talk to when I got there. I’d been hiring people virtually for years, but I had started hiring people locally. And I needed a place to put those people …

I never expected it all to add up to half a million dollars. But suddenly, I realized that I did it. It happened.

And it was a pretty amazing moment.

I was flooded with all these feelings.

I finally felt like I had made something of myself.

Like I was part of something bigger than me.

Like I wanted to tell everyone to screw off.

I felt real.

It was the last place people (especially those people I wanted to tell to screw off) expected to find me.

And that’s maybe the biggest reason the whole $500K thing freaked me out. I grew up knowing, or thinking I knew, a pretty depressing fact. That not everything is possible.

Pretty much the opposite of what you’re supposed to grow up knowing, right?

I grew up in a very small town in North Dakota, with very little money and even fewer possibilities. Not that there was (or is) anything wrong with the town or the people in it. They made me who I am today. I love North Dakota, and I’ll be forever grateful for my roots.

But it’s just the kind of town where everybody knows everybody, and you get married and you stay there and you have kids and your kids stay there and everybody stays there forever and ever and ever.

I never, ever thought I would see another state, or even get out of my little town.

I had no idea how that would even be possible.

They have this one, very specific life path they teach you in school to help you succeed.

  1. You go to high school.
  2. You go to college, usually an in-state school.
  3. You become a teacher, or a doctor, or a lawyer.
  4. You come home and work and raise your family there.

It’s a perfectly great plan for people who want to be doctors or lawyers or teachers.

But that just didn’t feel like me.

Of course, like in every town big and small, there are also the dropouts that don’t go to college; they don’t even stay in high school. So they don’t do anything with themselves except maybe sit at the local bar.

I didn’t see myself as one of those people either.

And then there are the people who don’t go to college, but just have a bunch of cute babies and stay home and live on a family farm.

That’s where I figured I fit in. I always assumed I was going to end up married with kids in my hometown. That’s what most people like me did. Or pretty much what all people like me did. How could I think I was going to be any different?

The problem was, deep down inside, I felt different.

There was a part of me that was always rebelling against “the way things were.” I had these vague dreams of “arriving,” although where I was going to arrive, I wasn’t quite sure. Or wishing and hoping that I could create something lasting, not that I had any idea what that would be.

I just knew that I wasn’t like everybody else.

And in my town, in my world, that wasn’t exactly a comforting feeling. I was scared as hell that I would fail, that I wouldn’t have anything to show for myself and wouldn’t be able to create anything at all.

But that didn’t stop me from having visions of something different. Something bigger.

I just didn’t know what it would be.

Now, 20 years or so later, I do. Which, I guess, is why I’m writing this book.

As I write this, 2 years after that moment with my tax forms, my business is hovering right under the million-dollar mark.

And because I have reached this level of success, before turning 30, suddenly, I’m getting noticed. Suddenly, people look at me and think things like, “Oh, she is smart.” Or, “Oh, she does have something going on.”

Which makes me laugh, because they didn’t always feel that way!

I was the girl that didn’t fit the mold. That didn’t follow the path. How was I ever supposed to be successful if I didn’t conform and do what I was supposed to do?

But here’s the more important point: Maybe you feel like that, too.

Because a lot of people do.

Maybe no one ever told you that there’s a bigger world out there, and that you can not only get out in it and see it and be a part of it, but actually add something to it.

I know no one told me. I had to figure that part out on my own.

So I’m here to tell you that you do have options. I was a person who was born into a life where there didn’t seem to be a lot of options. But I had them — they just weren’t immediately visible.

And you have them, too. You really do.

Living a life that fits you and makes you happy, leaving your mark on the world even if you don’t exactly know what that mark will be, is possible.

You don’t have to do it their way.

You just have to find your way.

People might tell you you’re crazy. They might say what you want isn’t possible. They may — and this hurts — even tell you they don’t believe in you.

It doesn’t matter.

As long as you stay curious, and stay thirsty for more, and keep trying new things and reaching for new experiences, anything is possible. I know it is. Not only have I lived it, but I’m still living it today.

Sure, there are times when I think that I could lead an easier life: I could stop running all over the country, hang out with my husband and just have fun and relax. Maybe someday I will. But right now, I want more for myself.

And I also want more for people that haven’t had that opportunity to be curious.

Because if all this could happen for a girl from Scranton, N.D., it can happen to you, too.

Are you curious? Then come with me …

• • •

Chelsea Berler will hold a book signing for “The Curious One” from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at 2nd and Charles, 1705 Montgomery Highway, Hoover [map].

“The Curious One” (March 2014, self-published)

Chelsea Berler

Books: Excerpt from Carrie Rollwagen’s ‘The Localist’

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014
Carrie Rollwagen, The Localist

Photo: Cary Norton

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Carrie Rollwagen’s new book, “The Localist” [aff. link]. She is co-owner of Church Street Coffee and Books, a copywriter and fellow blogger. I featured my friend Carrie in my first book, “The Social Media Stars of Birmingham.”

She discusses the new economic reality, the power of corporations and the importance of shopping locally.

• • •

Neon Jelly Bracelets, Big Hair and the American Dream

I’m a child of the ’80s, and as a kid, I really bought into everything the decade stood for: the commercialism and capitalism and neon, but also this crystallization of the American Dream, this sense that things could keep getting better and people would keep getting richer, and the only thing I had to do to be part of that success was to keep striving and fighting and working hard.

I started giving up on unlimited financial success a few years ago for religious reasons (Jesus would’ve made a terrible stockbroker), but anyone who didn’t have that same epiphany was forced out of their Reagan goggles anyway when our national — and global — economy collapsed. We haven’t hit Depression and Dust Bowl levels of poverty, but we aren’t doing so great either. Lots of people lost their jobs and couldn’t find new ones. Lots of people had to downsize and give up their houses and cars and dreams when their credit collapsed. Lots of people worked really hard and gave their bootstraps a really good tug and landed on the wrong side of a welfare line anyway.

News outlets love to broadcast about the financial meltdown, and bloggers like to write about how they’re affected by it. Every generation seems to think it’s got the best claim on being the worst treated by the economic collapse: The Greatest Generation saw its pensions and investments disappear. Baby boomers expect to lose social security and say goodbye to early retirement. Generations X and Y can’t advance in our jobs and don’t know what to do if we lose them. And Millennials grew up expecting financial security that may never materialize. We all have valid reasons for feeling tricked. But maybe it’s time we stopped feeling sorry for ourselves.

The financial collapse wasn’t something most of us, regardless of generation, expected. But maybe we should have. Economic systems naturally rise and fall, and it’s never wise to think their positive momentum will continue forever. For some reason, we all ignored that, and we set up our lives as if we’d only get more prosperous and hard times would never come and we’d become progressively richer and happier forever. We were living our lives like we were in an ’80s music video, where the music was loud and the hair was big and the bad times would be as short as the skirts. It’s a lot of fun to think that way. It’s why I liked to think that way as a little kid.

But maybe it’s time we grow up. Maybe we should admit to ourselves that life is full of ups and downs and to start looking at prosperity, at least partially, as a chance to save up for hard times ahead. We’ve been trained to think growing up is the worst thing of all, but I’m thinking maybe it isn’t. Acting like an adult can suck, but it can also be really exciting and freeing. It can also help us mature into people that we like being, developing personalities and economies that grow out of our choices instead of the choices that are made for us. Being less naïve and selfish with our finances and, instead, opening our eyes for the good of our community, and even our country, might just make our lives better, safer, and more of a stable place to land. Is creating that kind of world, that kind of economy, a lot of responsibility? Sure. But it could also be pretty incredible.

The things we dreamt about in the ’80s aren’t necessarily naïve or unreasonable (okay, maybe flying cars were). In general, it’s okay to want prosperity for our country. It’s okay to hope our government can provide for things like building interstates and defending us in a war. It’s understandable to want good, safe neighborhoods for our kids to grow up in. And it’s okay to be patriotic, to want a strong nation. But to do that, we need money in our budgets, both local and national. We need an economic system that rewards innovation and creativity. We need to understand what our money does, and how it can help.

It’s no wonder we have a tough time grasping these issues of global finance and macroeconomics when we don’t even have a clear understanding of microeconomics, or even of personal finance. We know how to spend money, but that’s about where our comprehension ends. Most of us don’t even see a real connection between how much we earn and how much we spend — hence our dependence on credit — so how can we be expected to have a grasp on higher economics and how they effect our communities, our states or our country? The good news is, these issues aren’t really complicated; the math involved is pretty much on the elementary school level: The more money we give our local shops, the more we keep in our communities; and the more we give big box stores, the more we lose. The way we spend our money makes a difference. It’s our right, and maybe our responsibility, to be sure we spend it well.

What Came First, the Chicken or the Boycott?

Some families aren’t allowed to talk about religion and politics at the dinner table, but in my house we weren’t encouraged to talk about much else. (I’m guessing that’s unsurprising if you’ve read this far.) We were like the Kennedys, if the Kennedys were working class Midwesterners who quoted Bible verses instead of philosophers. My dad felt that important subjects were the only ones worth talking about, so politics and religion were at the top of his conversation list. Dad might not be the most inoffensive choice for a dinner party invite, but he’s right about one thing: At its root, politics is personal. Our laws and lawmakers effect real people every day, and the fact that we see politics as more of a sport or a circus is both a symptom of our political mess and part of the problem itself.

Maybe we can’t stop corporations from becoming a part of our political process, but we can “vote” with our money when we agree or disagree with what they do. When we know a company treats its workers badly or supports a cause we’re against, we have a responsibility to stop buying from them. Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A have a few things in common: They’re both owned by Christians, they’re both closed on Sundays, and they’ve both been boycotted in the last couple of years, not for closing on Sundays (although I’ve known some waffle fry devotees who’ve gone almost that far), but for putting money and company policy behind controversial political issues.

Hobby Lobby sued to win the right to avoid funding certain types of birth control (particularly the types which the company’s leadership feel are not contraception but early abortion) for their employees. Chick-fil-A executives were shown to be funding organizations that created and distributed anti-gay propaganda. The Chick-fil-A story is so interesting not just because of the boycott that started when people found out that the nugget money was going toward “re-education,” but also because of the “buy-cott” that sprung up in response when Chick-fil-A supporters headed to the fast food restaurant in droves to prove through purchasing that they supported Chick-fil-A and its chosen stance.

The issues at play in the Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A examples — abortion, contraception and gay rights — are complex and polarizing. What’s clear is, when we spend money at these businesses, we’re supporting more than crochet supplies, glue guns and chicken biscuits. When we buy things we’re putting money behind the causes the business supports. That means we have an obligation to use our purchasing power to support the things we believe in and to withhold our money from companies that we disagree with. Treating individuals (or corporations) who exercise their free speech differently is not the job of the government — but it is our job as citizens and as consumers. If you’re pro-choice, it’s hypocritical to buy yarn from Hobby Lobby, and if you support gay rights, it’s best to learn to live without the waffle fries. That’s how we exercise our free speech as individuals. That’s how we send messages to the companies we do business with — in the language of money, the only language they understand.

‘We have an obligation to use
our purchasing power to support
the things we believe in and to
withhold our money from
companies that we disagree with.’

This goes beyond companies who take religious or political stances. We can also financially punish companies that engage in deceptive practices, that treat their employees badly, that serve food they know is unhealthy. When we disagree, it makes sense to boycott a certain company and its parent corporation.

Sometimes, of course, this is easier said than done. It may not be practical (or even possible) to boycott huge companies like Kraft or Apple or to avoid repeat offender Monsanto. When we take stands like this, it can feel like we’re throwing pebbles at a giant without even having a decent slingshot on our side. (All our slingshots are made of cheap plastic in China now, so they’re not likely to stand up to a good giant-slaying anyway.) But this idea that our purchases don’t matter is just a lie. Even the small spending is meaningful. Even the waffle fries make a difference. We may not be able to avoid buying from big box stores or from offensive corporations all of the time, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t avoid buying from them when we know about their abuses. Big corporations have the power to destroy other people, to influence public policy, and to put local shops out of business only because we don’t speak out against them, either with our speech or with our money. That silence is hurting us, and it’s a problem we have the power to stop.

Corporations Are(n’t) People, Too: Politics, Power and Personhood

Some people say Americans have loud mouths. (By some people, I mean the rest of the world.) Freedom of speech is pretty important to us, and we exercise it often, both for big and important things like political debates and for silly things like blogging about the Kardashians. With few restrictions, we can pretty much say whatever we want. Ideally, we combine our freedom of speech with the responsibility to use it wisely, but even when we don’t, we’re still protected. Our liberty makes us annoying sometimes, but it also makes us powerful and free.

Unfortunately, our Supreme Court has cheapened our freedom of speech with a bad decision in the Citizens United case, allowing corporations to give money to political candidates in the name of free speech. This ruling manages to slap us twice, equating corporations with people and giving money the same considerations as speech. Now the battle for what’s important about our humanity is being fought, not just in the corporate boardroom, but in the courtroom as well. Somehow, the same court that can’t decide conclusively when a fetus becomes a person has decided to give Fortune 500 companies that title.

Treating corporations as people and money as speech is more than creepy. (Although it certainly is that — clearly, the justices don’t read science fiction, or they’d know that personifying inanimate objects and monetary systems leads to some pretty nasty business.) Equating a business to a human life cheapens our humanity. This isn’t just semantics: Elevating a business to the level of a person sends the message that corporate needs are just as important as a person’s, and they certainly are not.

Corporations are not people. They don’t breathe, love, create or feel. We should reject Citizens United not just because of common sense, but also because corporate decisions are made, not with reason, but with money. Publicly traded corporations are legally obligated to report to and to produce profits for their shareholders. The system is rigged at its foundation to favor money above all, and a system like that shouldn’t have a voice in our political process. Money may be the language that corporations speak, but equating it with actual, literal speech and giving it the same freedoms is dangerous. It sets us up to be a country where people who have wealth have more voice, are more likely to be listened to, and are more likely to be taken seriously. That’s exactly the kind of country our founders escaped and tried to avoid becoming. We should not let the “we the people” that’s so important and unique to us to be turned into “we, the Walmarts and the Microsofts and the Amazons.”

When the government decided certain entities were too big to fail, they also made them seem too protected to be opposed by consumers. This led to an outpouring of rage known as the Occupy Wall Street movement, which saw people camping out for weeks in protest of big banks and big business. It’s easy to see what attracted these protesters, and it’s not just the Woodstock-like mix of anarchy, peace and love that seemed to develop through the weeks.

Our system, to put it mildly, is pretty messed up, and corporations gaining political influence without public transparency through the political action committees protected by Citizens United is just the beginning: Big money strong-arms our political system to the point that our individual voices feel irrelevant, and banks and corporations are not held accountable for the laws they break or the lives they destroy. Corporations inexplicably avoid prosecution when they hire illegal and immigrant labor, but individual families of immigrants seeking the American dream are torn apart and punished for our demand for cheap products and cheap labor. And a nationwide recession left almost every family struggling to get by.

On its own, shopping small won’t solve our most complicated political problems, but it might bring us closer together as communities, and it’s likely that unity would raise the current level of political discourse, creating a more civilized conversation that would help us find better solutions to our problems. Shopping locally would empower us and put more money into our local governments. It might just make us a more thoughtful people: a people who understand more about our communities. And that could put us in a better position for solving our problems and for building a better country.

The Citizens United ruling attacks America, it undermines what it means to be an American, and it chips away at our very humanity. But we can still make a stand, and we don’t even need to hang out on sidewalks with picket signs to do it. Wall Street has our money because we give it to them, and that’s something we can stop, or at least slow down, immediately. To really change Wall Street, we have to stop occupying Walmart. With our money, we can tell businesses that being a person — a real one — still matters.

• • •

Carrie Rollwagen will hold a book signing for “The Localist” from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Church Street Coffee and Books, 81 Church St., Mountain Book [map]. She will have giveaways to mark the book’s debut and Shop Small Saturday.

She will have a book launch party from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Nest, 130 41st St. S., Ste. 101, Avondale [map]. The event will include free beer from Avondale Brewing Company.

For more information, visit Carrie’s events page.

“The Localist” (Nov. 2014, self-published)

Carrie Rollwagen

Birmingham’s Sarcor, Slice featured on PBS series “Start Up”

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Slice Pizza and Brew , Sarcor, Start Up

Top: Slice Pizza and Brew’s Jason Bajalieh, Chris
Bajalieh and Jeff Bajalieh; bottom: Sarcor’s Selena
Rodgers Dickerson.

You have to be tough to be an entrepreneur. I mean, really, really tough. I don’t know if I have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

Those who have started a business and kept it going can have amazing stories. The PBS series “Start Up” featured the owners of two Birmingham companies earlier this month.

Selena Rodgers Dickerson founded civil engineering firm Sarcor in 2010. On the show, she discusses surviving the darkest time in her life and the challenges of working in a field dominated by men.

Video: Birmingham civil engineering firm Sarcor featured on
“Start Up” (skip to 13:22).

The Bajalieh brothers Chris, Jason and Jeff opened their restaurant Slice Pizza and Brew in 2011 in an old Lakeview house. The road to that moment was bumpy and filled with setbacks, as they discuss in their “Start Up” segment.

Video: Lakeview restaurant Slice Pizza and Brew featured
on “Start Up.”

The show’s producers flew in from Detroit to film both segments in 1 day. “Start Up” interviews entrepreneurs from across America to share their stories on the highs and lows of starting and owning a business.


Slice Pizza and Brew

“Start Up”

Butcher shop Bottle and Bone opens in Uptown

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Bottle and Bone, Wil Drake, Chris Izor, Jen Barnett, Victor King, Angela Schmidt

From left, Bottle and Bone’s Wil Drake, Chris Izor, Jen Barnett
and Victor King, with Angela Schmidt of Chef U.

My friend (and client) Jen Barnett is opening her new store at 4 p.m. today. It’s called Bottle and Bone, and you should stop by soon.

Located at Uptown, next to the Westin Birmingham, this butcher shop/restaurant will offer housemade sausage, bacon and hot dogs. The pub side will have beer (including local brews) and wine, by the bottle, growler or glass (once the liquor license is cleared). Stop in for lunch or dinner, or pick up steaks and stout on the way home.

Alabama Wagyu bone-in ribeye

Alabama Wagyu bone-in ribeye

Bottle and Bone offers fresh local meats, charcuterie, sandwiches and small plates, plus free weekday beer and wine tastings from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Desserts and baked goods are available from Birmingham-based Baking Bandits.

Jen was most recently owner of the Freshfully market in Avondale. Her associates are Victor King, a Nashville native who previously worked in the kitchen at Highlands Bar and Grill; Wil Drake, one of the chefs at the Knife Party pop-up dinners; and Chris Izor, front-of-house manager who previously worked at Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Bottle and Bone is located in Uptown, 2311 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., Ste. 200 [map]. (205) 538-7106. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Bottle and Bone

Bottle and Bone marks the full occupancy of new
Birmingham entertainment district Uptown.

Video: Alabama’s 13 reports on Bottle and Bone.

Bonus video on page 2

Second Design Week Birmingham offers workshops, talks

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Design Week Birmingham Design Shop

The Design Shop, located at the Alabama Center for Architecture,
has goods from local and regional designers
during Design Week Birmingham.

Design Week Birmingham returns for a second year with a series of events around town, including lectures, workshops and discussions. For more details and tickets, visit the Design Week Birmingham site.


• Design Week Headquarters and Design Shop
Alabama Center for Architecture
Through Friday: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

• After-School Design Workshops
Desert Island Supply Company
Through Friday, 3-6 p.m.

• Alter Your Landscape: Civic Design Challenge
Various venues


• Kickstarter School: Terry Hope Romero
Carrigan’s Public House
4:30-6 p.m.

• Design Film Screening: “Stations of the Elevated” and other short films about street art
6:30 p.m., screening at 7:30


• TechBirmingham: Jennifer Driskell
Kinetic Communications
8-9:30 a.m.

• Birmingham Museum of Art’s Art Break

• Sidewalk’s E-Series: “Maker”
Red Mountain Cabaret Theatre
6 p.m.
$8, $10 at the door

• TEDx Birmingham: Design Salon
The Stream
6:30-8 p.m.
Free, but reservation required


• Andrew Freear, Rural Studio Lecture
Birmingham Museum of Art
4 p.m., with cocktails (cash bar) at 5

• AIGA Exhibit Opening: Highlights from Birmingham Graphic Design History
Alabama Center for Architecture
7 p.m.
$10 donation suggested


• Birmingham Creative Roundtable: Henry H. Owings
Sound and Page
7:30 a.m.
Free, but reservation required

• Rotary Trail Tour: Jane Reed Ross
Alabama Center for Architecture
Noon-1 p.m.
$15 (includes lunch)

• Adobe Workshop: Photoshop for Designers
1-5 p.m.

• IIDA Tour: N.E. Miles Jewish Day School
4:30 p.m.

• Keynote Lecture: Aaron Draplin
Good People Brewing Company
7-9 p.m.


• How to Master The Language of Personal Style: Megan LaRussa Chenoweth, Southern Femme
The Nest
Noon-1 p.m.

• Re-Thinking Avondale
Avondale Brewery, second floor
1-5 p.m.

• Rapid Fire, Powered by Pecha Kucha
Woodrow Hall
6-9:30 p.m.


• Letterpress and Screen Printers Fair
Trim Tab Brewing Company
10 a.m.-4 p.m.

• Urban Sketches
Theater District, in front of Alabama Theatre
2:30 p.m.

• FEAST, a Community Action Dinner
7 p.m.

Design Week Birmingham

30 Birmingham women to be honored for service

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Smart Party honorees

The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham will honor these 10 women at its Smart Party 3.0 tonight at Iron City on Southside.

Kay Bains, partner, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Louise Beard, Broadway producer who won 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

Constance Burnes, director of schools, Birmingham City Schools

Michele Elrod, executive vice president and head of marketing, Regions Bank

Susan Greene, executive director, Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation

Eileen Markstein, managing director, Markstein Consulting*

Andrea McCaskey, vice president, human resources, BioHorizons

Kathy G. Mezrano, founder and president, Kathy G. and Company

Carolyn Sherer, photographer and director*

Dr. Farah Sultan, founder and medical director, Vitalogy Wellness Center

Women Who Make a Difference

Birmingham Magazine and the Alabama Media Group will honor these 20 recipients as Women Who Make a Difference on Wednesday at The Club. 

Lisa Borden, pro bono shareholder, Baker Donelson

Nita Carr, executive director, Cornerstone Schools of Alabama

Carol Clarke, manager, Regions Financial Education Institute

Leigh Collier, Mid-South region president, Wells Fargo

Priscilla Hancock Cooper, interim president and CEO, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Kate Cotton, vice president, community relations, Protective Life Corporation, and executive director, Protective Life Foundation

Trisha Powell Crain, executive director, Alabama School Connection

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano, president and CEO, Hoffman Media

Virginia Samford Donovan, actress, philanthropist, namesake of the Virginia Samford Theatre

Martie Duncan, chef, finalist on “Food Network Star”

Ann Florie, executive director, Leadership Birmingham

Alie Gorrie, founder, Songs for Sight

Kathryn Gwaltney, executive director, National Center for Sports Safety

Shirley Salloway Kahn, vice president for development, alumni and external relations, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Meg McGlamery, executive director, Crisis Center

Shanta’ Owens, district judge, Jefferson County Criminal Division

Valerie Ramsbacher, vice president, corporate advocacy, Regions Bank

Chanda Temple, public relations director, Birmingham Public Library

Véronique Vanblaere, owner and artist, Naked Art Gallery

Beth Wilder, executive director, Literacy Council of Central Alabama

*Former client

Video: What area in metro Birmingham is this?

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Video: This is a promotional video for which part of
the Birmingham metro area?

This 2-minute promotional video is a rebranding campaign for one part of the metro area, created by Tatum Design of Homewood. (I’ve taken out the identifying city name.)

Can you guess which place it is?

The answer.