Harris beer distributors to be sold

Greenville's R.A. Jeffreys to buy Raleigh business founded in 1949.

Staff WritersDecember 30, 2010 

  • Based: Walnut Creek Business Park in East Raleigh

    Business: Distributes Anheuser-Busch beer and other beverages

    Top executives: CEO Worth Harris III, president John Glover

    Employees: 235 in Raleigh, at a smaller facility in Fayetteville and elsewhere in its 16-county sales territory

    Company timeline

    1949: Founded when Worth L. Harris Sr. of Charlotte got the exclusive license to sell Anheuser-Busch products in the Raleigh area; his brother, Joe, obtained the license to sell the company's beer in Durham County and founded a separate distributorship, Harris Inc.

    Mid-1960s: Worth Harris Jr., who went by his middle name, Larry, moved to Raleigh to run the company

    1989: Moved from Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh to Capital Boulevard

    2004: Moved to larger headquarters and warehouse in East Raleigh's Walnut Creek Business Park

    2006: Sold 15,188-square-foot former headquarters on Capital Boulevard to Urban Ministries

    2011: Company sold to R.A. Jeffreys of Greenville

Harris Wholesale, a family business that is one of the state's largest and oldest beer distributors, is being bought by its counterpart in Greenville.

Raleigh-based Harris Wholesale distributes Anheuser-Busch products and other beverages to more than 3,000 retailers, restaurants and bars in a 16-county region.

Its acquisition by R.A. Jeffreys Distributing Co., another Anheuser-Busch distributor with operations in Greenville, Wilmington, New Bern and Goldsboro, is expected to close Jan. 7. Terms of the agreement weren't disclosed.

The "vast majority" of Harris Wholesale's 235 employees at its facilities in East Raleigh and Fayetteville are expected to remain with the combined company, said CEO Worth Harris III. Harris and his sister, Sallie Glover, own the company that their grandfather founded in 1949.

Jeffreys officials haven't indicated how many workers might be laid off, but the company will help any who lose their jobs, Harris said.

"We've got some great employees, some of them with us for over 30 years, and it's hard on them, but we're working with them as best we can," he said.

Jeffreys officials didn't return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Although Harris Wholesale doesn't deal directly with consumers, it has become a well-known brand name in the region. Its delivery trucks have been a common sight on local roads for 61 years.

This year, the company helped negotiate a controversial proposal to pay Raleigh $1.5 million over five years to put the Bud Light logo on the new outdoor amphitheater downtown. But state law prevents public venues from bearing the names of alcoholic beverages, and in June the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission rejected the plan.

Once its union with Jeffreys is complete, the combined company will be among the nation's top 10 Anheuser-Busch distributors, Harris said.

The deal is the latest in a series of acquisitions by Jeffreys, and the combined company will control most of the Anheuser-Busch business from Raleigh to the coast, said Tim Kent, executive director of the N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association in Raleigh.

"They've been very successful buying companies that might be going through generational change," Kent said. "They've been able to put together a pretty significant beer empire."

Harris Wholesale distributes Budweiser and other Anheuser-Busch products, as well as Corona, Gordon Biersch and other beer. It also distributes local brands such as beer made by Raleigh-based LoneRider Brewing.

"They have been key in getting us into" bars, restaurants and retailers across the Triangle, said Sumit Vohra, Lone Rider's CEO and "chief drinking officer."

LoneRider started two years ago and hired Harris Wholesale as its first distributor. The craft brewer now uses seven distributors, including Jeffreys, and expects to sell up to 4,000 barrels this year.

Harris Wholesale's pact with Jeffreys has been in the works for nine months. The family had no plans to sell until it was approached by an out-of-state distributor. That deal fell through, but the broker who had handled it put together another merger, this time with Jeffreys.

"Business is good," Harris said. "It wasn't something we planned to do, and it was a difficult decision, but we think the time is right."

The company also runs a real estate division that owns and manages commercial properties across Wake County and sells commercial real estate. Harrispark Properties will remain with the family and continue operating. Harris said he will continue working with that firm and that he also has other ventures under way.

"I'm pretty excited," said Harris, 49. "I've spent half my life selling beer, and now I'll go do something else."

Stepping away from a company that has been associated with his family for so long is bittersweet. But Harris noted that his own father retired at 50 and that his grandfather had sold the trucking company, Harris Express, that had been the heart of his business empire.

"We have a family history of moving on," he said.

alan.wolf@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4572

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