September 08, 2023
A Camden County brewery is set to shut down next week after more than eight years in business, citing New Jersey's restrictions on craft brewery operations as a main contributor to its impending closure.
Lunacy Brewing Co., a 3,000-square-foot brewery and tasting room in Haddon Heights, plans to close Saturday, Sept. 16. Its owners said it was too difficult to overcome pandemic difficulties and new state restrictions that limit breweries' abilities to sell food and host special events.
"It wasn't an easy decision, but we feel it's best for us," the owners wrote on Facebook. "We have embraced you the way you embraced us. We have been invited to parties, invited to weddings and 'crashed' another one. We attended a funeral for a fellow brewer. We have met some of the best people over the last several years that we are lucky enough to now call friends."
Lunacy Brewing Co. opened in January 2014 inside a warehouse space at 214 Davis Road in Magnolia. In their Facebook post, the owners reminisced about the fine Italian leather sofas and marble floors they did not expect to find in the back of the "old dingy" building, which was surrounded by barbed wire.
After about four years, the business moved to its current location 1500 W. Kings Highway in order to expand production and open a tasting room meant to maintain the vibe of the original location. Over the years, Lunacy hosted birthday parties, anniversaries, baby showers, wedding receptions, a divorce party, an album release party, open mics, comedy shows and celebrations that featured the likes of Santa, Darth Vader and Princess Leia.
Still, the brewery experienced financial hiccups, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, that prevented it from increasing production as much as its owners had hoped. Those financial obstacles, and the implementation of state restrictions last year, led to the decision to shut down.
"If I do something else, it will not be in the state of New Jersey," Michael Lees, a South Philly native and one of the co-founders of Lunacy Brewing Co., told the Philadelphia Business Journal. "I just really feel that they don't promote or help small businesses like they should."
The restrictions, codified in 2019, went into effect in July 2022, much to the chagrin of brewery owners throughout South Jersey. Death of the Fox Brewing Co. in Gloucester County led an effort to have the restrictions appealed.
The regulations limits breweries to hosting 25 special events each year, 52 private parties and 12 off-site events. Any time live music or a DJ plays music counts as a special event. So does advertising that the brewery will show special television events, like the Super Bowl.
The only food breweries may sell must be prepackaged. They cannot sell coffee, and soft drinks must be manufactured by the brewery.
Six weeks after the restrictions went into effect, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation to ease the limits on special events and to removed the provision that prohibits breweries from working with outside food vendors.
The bill passed unanimously in the state Assembly and Senate earlier this year and has been sent to Gov. Phil Murphy for his signature.
On Friday, Murphy indicated he would "conditionally veto" the measure in an effort to get legislators to include his plan to ease the state's limits on liquor licenses. Still, a spokesperson for Murphy told the New Jersey Monitor that the governor "unequivocally supports easing restrictions" on breweries.