Greatest hits 2015: Mountain Xpress’ most-viewed stories of the year

Beer, food, pot and wages. The typical conversation in Asheville, and plenty of it to keep a local newspaper busy.

From the infamous Sketch-ville comment to the “Welcome to Lovetown” billboard, Asheville’s had some interesting moments over the course of 2015.

Here’s a look at the top 10 most-viewed stories of 2015 on the Mountain Xpress website, compiled by Google Analytics and arranged in order of WordPress views.

#1) Frommer on ‘Good Morning America’: Asheville is 2015’s No. 1 travel destination

Remember the “Keep Asheville Sketchy” campaign? With 52,000 views on the Xpress website, more than a few feathers were ruffled when the editorial director of Frommer’s travel guide, Pauline Frommer, called Asheville’s River Arts District “sketchy,” live on national TV.

On New Year’s Day 2015, “Good Morning America” featured a segment on top travel destinations for the new year. Frommer, the main interviewee for the piece, mentioned Asheville first and foremost on the list — and called the pre-New Belgium version of RAD “sketchy.”

GMA Tourism
Screen shot of the Good Morning America travel segment.

“We’re picking [Asheville] this year because the sketchy riverside area has been totally redone, thanks to the New Belgium Brewery, which has poured millions of dollars into this area, making new parks, artists collectives, farmers markets, bike paths,” says Frommer. (This statement jumped the gun a bit, however, as the Colorado-based brewery has still not opened its new location along the French Broad.)

On a more positive note, Frommer mentioned the area’s thriving craft beer scene, telling the national audience that Asheville is “an amazing place. It’s really coming into its own. It’s a glorious natural setting.”

Click here to read the story from Jan. 2. Original story by Jake Frankel.


#2) North Carolina inches closer to legalization of medicinal marijuana

Beer tourism and marijuana. With 37,400 views in this next entry, Xpress sees your priorities, Asheville.

In a story from March, Xpress reported that North Carolina could conceivably be one of the next states to legalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

Photo courtesy of medicalmarijuanawilmingtonnc.com
Photo courtesy of medicalmarijuanawilmingtonnc.com

Bill H78 stated that “modern medical research has discovered beneficial uses for cannabis in treating or alleviating pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions.” The legislation also found that “99 out of every 100 cannabis arrests in the United States are made under state law, rather than under federal law,” suggesting that legalization at the state level would protect the seriously ill from facing prosecution.

But, when the bill came before the House Rules Committee last March, it was “reported unfavorably,” essentially killing its chances and preventing any further consideration. One small win for this cause, however, came when the state voted Oct. 30 in favor of the regulated cultivation of industrial hemp.

Click here to read the story from March 4. Original story by Max Hunt.


#3) Petition against Bell’s Brewery collects 1,200 signatures in 15 hours

In the world of craft beer (yes, more beer), legal disputes over pun-y names are common. With Western North Carolina’s booming craft beer scene, it was only a matter of time before one of our own got into a legal tussle.

In March, Sylva microbrewery Innovation Brewing was contacted by the legal team of Michigan-based Bell’s Brewery regarding its use of the word “innovation,” which Bell’s had trademarked for a bumper sticker slogan: “Bottling Innovation Since 1985.”

Photo from Innovation Brewing's Facebook page.
Photo from Innovation Brewing’s Facebook page.

To the craft beer community, this was an outrage. Bell’s, a 310,000-barrel-per-year operation, had filed for civil action against the 500-barrel-per-year local brewers — and the news quickly spread to microbrewers across the nation, gathering 32,000 views on the Xpress site alone.

A petition on change.org brought in more than 1,200 signatures overnight (5,583 is the current count), and $5,234 was raised on a GoFundMe page to help cover the owners’ legal fees as they prepared to fight Goliath. The legal dispute is ongoing and will come to a head in the spring.

Click here to read the story from March 11. Original story by Hayley Benton.


#4) Coffee shop owners face community outrage over sex blog

On a darker note, the owners of a West Asheville coffee shop were outed (and, eventually, out of business) after creating a blog and podcast that detailed some troubling sexual encounters.

Waking Life Jared & Jacob
Owners of the former West Asheville coffee shop, Waking Life Espresso, were the subject of international news after admitting to being the creators of the now-deleted blog “Holistic Game.” Photo by Kat McReynolds

The blog and podcast contained misogynistic, “red pill” dating practices and advice — and Ashevilleans had none of it. Protesters lined up outside Waking Life and demanded action against the owners as other businesses pulled the shop’s bottled coffees from their shelves.

The news was reported first on Asheville Blog, circulated through the local media, then the national media — and then ended up on blogs and news sites across the globe. As the news went viral, the Xpress story amassed 19,500 views.

In October, Waking Life was sold to Izzy’s Coffee Den.

Click here for the story from Sept. 20. Original story by Hayley Benton.


#5) All fired up: Smoky Park Supper Club announces opening date, menu

Smoky Park Supper Club is the largest shipping container restaurant in the U.S. Photo courtesy of Smoky Park Supper Club

After all that beer and marijuana, Asheville was feeling pretty hungry, which brings us to No. 5 on the list of most-viewed Xpress stories of the year.

The largest shipping container building in the U.S., Smoky Park Supper Club, opened Sept. 11, and the parking lot on Riverside Drive has been packed ever since.

The restaurant specializes in wood-fired fine dining; the announcement of its opening brought in 18,500 views.

Click here to read the story from Sept. 6. Original story by Jonathan Ammons.


#6) Frommer responds to criticism of ‘Good Morning America’ interview about Asheville

We’ve come full circle, Asheville.

Image 420 Screenprinting created this graphic in response to Frommer’s ‘Good Morning America’ interview.
Image 420 Screenprinting created this graphic in response to Frommer’s ‘Good Morning America’ interview.

Just days after calling Asheville’s River Arts District “sketchy” on national TV, Pauline Frommer responded to the Asheville-based criticism.

“Doing live TV is difficult, and I, unfortunately, accidentally conflated some developments,” she said. “I never meant to say that the riverside area was recently sketchy or that it’s sketchy right now.”

The comment, she said, was an unintentional consequence of live interviews. However, the controversy inspired a pretty sweet T-shirt and became an inside joke for locals, who viewed the story 15,600 times.

Click here to read the story from Jan. 6. Original story by Jake Frankel.


#7) Sierra Nevada unveils new outdoor spaces, amphitheater

The California-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. opened its Mills River satellite facility in spring. By summer, the company announced a new space for lovers of both craft beer and the outdoors, garnering 15,100 views on the Xpress site.

Photo courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

The brewer didn’t stop at just one space — it announced four: The Back Porch, Beer Garden, Estate Garden and a 600-person amphitheater.

The Back Porch, a 220-seat indoor/outdoor extension of Sierra Nevada’s bustling taproom, offers a full beer-and-snack menu. From there, guests can wander directly into the brewery’s beer garden, a communal area with shared tables and a massive fire pit, ideal for mingling with fellow beer and nature enthusiasts.

Beside these sitting areas is a 6,500-square-foot garden, partitioned with gravel walkways. Don’t go picking the brewery’s Darlington Hardy rosemary, though; harvests will be utilized in the taproom and small-scale pilot brewhouse.

Click here to read the story from July 1. Original story by Kat McReynolds.


#8) Activists alter ‘Welcome to Pepsitown’ billboard to read ‘Welcome to Lovetown’

Here’s a story that will make you roll your eyes and say, “Typical Asheville.” But it’s also got a pretty cute ending — and was viewed 11,800 times.

On March 31, an anonymous group painted over a prominent Pepsi billboard near downtown Asheville, changing the slogan from “Pepsitown” to “Lovetown.”

Photo from Love Town spokesperson
Photo from Love Town spokesperson

Although the stunt was performed right before April Fools’ Day, the responsible party said, “We’re not joking when it comes to keeping the heart and soul of Asheville alive and free from being owned.”

Moore Patton, the corporate marketing manager for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Hickory, said he and his wife had a pretty good laugh about the billboard change. Patton’s bottling company is not part of PepsiCo Inc., but a purchaser of the corporation’s syrup concentrate.

“Our intent is not what they think,” he said. “We’re a family-owned business that has been here since 1928, and we’ve been involved with Asheville for years.”

Regarding the billboard, he said, “We’re not going to take it down immediately. We kind of like it. They did a wonderful job with the artwork.”

The billboard now reads “Love Asheville.”

Click here for the story from April 1. Original story by Kat McReynolds.


 #9) Gov. McCrory allows legalization of industrial hemp in North Carolina

You guys really love your beer and pot stories. (Although, yes, industrial hemp is technically a different topic). Still, there’s nothing like a barn full of harvested cannabis plants to get 11,400 web views.

WHAT THE HEMP: Despite hemp's continued federal classification as a Schedule I controlled substance, states are allowed to enact laws surrounding the farming of industrial hemp. Smiling Hara Tempeh owner Chad Oliphant, second from left, and Kentucky farmer Mike Lewis, fourth from left, are pictured with other hemp advocates after harvesting the newly legalized crop in Kentucky. Oliphant and Lewis were introduced through Accelerating Appalachia's network of nature-based business owners.
WHAT THE HEMP: Despite hemp’s continued federal classification as a Schedule I controlled substance, states are allowed to enact laws surrounding the farming of industrial hemp. Smiling Hara Tempeh owner Chad Oliphant, second from left, and Kentucky farmer Mike Lewis, fourth from left, are pictured with other hemp advocates after harvesting the newly legalized crop in Kentucky. Oliphant and Lewis were introduced through Accelerating Appalachia’s network of nature-based business owners.

North Carolina farmers are now the newest competitors in the worldwide hemp market, despite concerns from Gov. Pat McCrory. Growing industrial hemp, as opposed to simply importing and processing it for use in derivative products, was legalized in North Carolina under Senate Bill 313.

An update to the original story mentions that, after speedily proceeding through the North Carolina House and Senate, the industrial hemp bill was legalized without McCrory’s signature on Oct. 30.

“Despite the bill’s good intentions, there are legitimate concerns I would like to address,” reads a press release from McCrory.

Click here to read the story. Original story by Kat McReynolds.


#10) Little Big City Blues: Asheville’s growing housing crisis

The median home price in Asheville is higher than it’s ever been, at $235,000, exceeding even prerecession levels in 2007. The median home price in 2007 was $225,000. Traditionally, Buncombe’s home sale prices have surpassed those within city limits. But in 2013, the city exceeded the county ­­— and the county median currently sits at $219,570.
The median home price in Asheville is higher than it’s ever been, at $235,000, exceeding even prerecession levels.

Surrounded by mountains and crammed into a 45-square-mile valley, the city of Asheville is nearly bursting at the seams, suffering from a severe housing shortage, skyrocketing rents and home prices, overcrowded streets with no place to park and an abundance of lower-paying, tourism-based jobs. Little Big City Blues took a look at Asheville’s housing crisis — and was accompanied by a three-issue series of essays from prominent Asheville figures, all discussing one thing: housing.

This story, getting 11,200 views, examined this issue, taking a look at housing in the region over the last 15 years and the plans to combat the pricing-out of Asheville’s lower-income — but much-needed — workers.

To complicate matters even further, the vacancy rate among rentals in Asheville was less than 1 percent at the time of the study cited in the article.

Click here for the story from Aug. 4. Original story by Hayley Benton.


 #10) City building blocks: Shipping container structures are stacking up in Asheville

The atrium at the Smoky Park Supper Club was constructed by cutting through the floor of the two containers that make up the structures top level. Removing the steel floor — which Hecker says is the thickest and heaviest part of the container — required plasma cutters and a "laborious" process, Hecker adds.
The atrium at the Smoky Park Supper Club was constructed by cutting through the floor of the two containers that make up the structures top level. Removing the steel floor — which Hecker says is the thickest and heaviest part of the container — required plasma cutters and a “laborious” process.

Tying for 10th with 11,200 views, Smoky Park Supper Club’s opening interested Ashevilleans for more reasons than just the menu.

The May 6 story explored the restaurant (and other structures) from the architectural side, as shipping containers seem to be the new architectural craze.

And, with the opening of Smoky Park Supper Club — built from 19 containers — city residents and visitors can now explore one of these buildings up close. But what is it about the look of these large steel boxes that has so captured our imagination?

“It is very trendy,” says Douglas Hecker, one of the architects who worked on the supper club, Asheville’s first commercial structure made from shipping containers. “But I think it’s also a very powerful metaphor for sustainability. It’s very much wearing your sustainability on your sleeve.”

However, if you’re going to think of shipping containers as grown-up Legos, think of them as Legos on steroids. Their heavy steel sides mean they can create structures that can stand the test of time and the extremes of climate.

Click here for the May 6 story. Original story by Carrie Eidson.

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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