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Revitalization Comes In Bottle, Growler

It’s relatively belated compared with its neighbors, but Oceanside is now surfing what has long been a steady wave of economic benefits generated by North County’s burgeoning craft beer industry.

With craft demand rising among city residents and visitors — and production space running out in Vista, San Marcos, Escondido and other stops along state Route 78, aka the Hops Highway — Oceanside now appears to be cashing in.

Tracey Bohlen

According to city economic development and tourism officials, Oceanside now has at least 16 breweries, tap rooms and brewery restaurants, with others in various planning and approval stages. The vast majority of venues in operation are less than five years old.

New arrivals in just the last few weeks have included Oceanside Brewing Co. on Via Del Norte, Midnight Jack Brewing on Oceanic Drive and a new Oceanside location of Vista-based Belching Beaver Brewery on Rocky Point Drive. Set to open soon is a downtown venue called North Pine Brewing.

The bulk of venues with significant on-site beer production are in or near the city’s industrial parks, but officials are discussing zoning changes that could allow more breweries in the downtown area and other commercial districts.

Downtown Revival

Craft beer’s rise in Oceanside has coincided with a post-recession revival of the city’s downtown and adjacent areas along Coast Highway 101. For instance, about eight entire downtown blocks that long sat empty or underused — plagued for decades by crime and blight — now have several mixed-use apartment and hotel projects in various planning and approval stages.

Tracey Bohlen, the city’s economic development manager, said projects in the works are expected to bring nearly 300 new apartments and 400 hotel rooms to the downtown area. Most of the ground-floor spaces in the apartment projects have already been pre-leased, primarily by restaurants, though developers have not announced specific tenants.

The momentum has also spurred renovations of older buildings by longtime city business owners. Spouses Jeff and Dande Bagby turned a former South Coast Highway auto dealership building into what is now Bagby Beer Co., which opened in 2014 following a renovation of well over $2 million.

Dande Bagby said the two-story brewhouse and eatery has become a popular social hub among families and other patrons across a variety of ages and demographics. “For so many years there was nothing here that reflected what people needed or wanted,” Bagby said. “I think the good businesses are the ones that answer a question or solve a problem, and we and some others are doing that.”

Neighborhoods’ ‘Brewmance’

Longer established Oceanside brewers, including Breakwater Brewing Co. founder and CEO Shannon Sager, have seen a noticeable spike in craft beer’s impact, especially in the past four years. He said Oceanside now has the chance to create vibrant business clusters along the lines of what is already being seen in places like downtown Vista and San Diego’s Little Italy, Old Town and North Park.

Breakwater, started in 2008 on North Coast Highway, along with original local brewer Oceanside Ale Works (founded in 2005 and located on Ord Way) and Legacy Brewing Co. are among firms recently helping to raise the city’s craft profile by winning several awards at major national beer festivals.

Early results for Legacy Brewing, started on Airport Road in 2013 by co-founder J.J. Snyder and his business partners, encouraged it to later add a tap room in Miramar. But Snyder said he remains ultra-aware of cost, distribution and competitive pressures facing San Diego County’s 120-and-counting craft brewers.

“You’ve got to do a lot more than brew beer to stay in business,” Snyder said, adding Legacy continues to offer live music, food and other amenities to retain customers.

Leslee Gaul

Leslee Gaul, president and CEO of the Visit Oceanside Conference & Visitors Bureau, said the city in the past three years has seen a noticeable rise in visitors. Restaurant spending is actually tracking ahead of hotel spending, a trend that can be credited at least in part to craft beer’s impact on the local social and dining scene.

A study done for Visit Oceanside by consulting firm Dean Runyan Associates found that overall travel spending in the city was approximately $271 million in 2015, an increase of 5.1 percent from 2014 and 6.1 percent from 2010.

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