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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Pineville one of five places in US keeping beloved animatronic band

Helen Henny, Mr. Munch and Jasper T. Jowls at the Chuck E. Cheese's three-stage location in Laurel, Md., in 2012.
Ben Schumin
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Helen Henny, Mr. Munch and Jasper T. Jowls at the Chuck E. Cheese's three-stage location in Laurel, Md., in 2012.

Mecklenburg County is soon to be a national destination for a beloved band, perhaps even The Beatles of their genre. Pineville will be one of only five places in the U.S. where fans of the Chuck E. Cheese pizza chain can watch the animatronic "Munch’s Make Believe Band" perform.

For more, I’m joined now by Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: So, this band soundtracked many a birthday party all over the country. Why are they only found at five locations now? And how did Pineville get so lucky?

Tony Mecia: Well, Marshall, I think the decline of animatronic animal bands is just explained by, you know, people maybe just aren't as interested anymore. These were maybe high-tech when they came into vogue a few decades ago, but I guess the market for chicken guitarists and keyboard-playing monsters isn't what it used to be. You will recall maybe a parallel — the Leonard Bearstein Orchestra was removed from Founders Hall uptown a couple of years ago. I think people are sort of moving on to maybe bigger and better things, but people who like the nostalgia of Chuck E. Cheese, they can now go to Pineville, as you’ve mentioned.

And how did it get so lucky? Well, hard to know. The company didn't return our calls this week, but we do know there was a movement from die-hard fans online and YouTube videos and a change.org petition to save the setup in Pineville, and that apparently paid off. Another thing to celebrate over, Marshall, is that not only will it be one of five locations where these bands exist, but the Pineville location will be the “exclusive collection of memorabilia including artifacts, paintings, and old decorative pieces related to the Chuck E. Cheese band.”

Terry: Economic development officials often point to the impact of tourism and live music on our economy. So is there any idea what the economic impact of being one of the last animatronic band locations will be?

Mecia: That's a good question, Marshall. I'm unaware of any tax incentives that have been offered to secure the band’s continued performance at Chuck E. Cheese. I guess that's a question for economic development officials.

Terry: Let’s move from pizza to beer now. You report Charlotte’s top three breweries increased their production last year. So, is Charlotte just getting thirstier?

Mecia: I'm not sure that it's Charlotte getting thirstier as much as it is, in this particular case, these three big breweries, the biggest ones in Charlotte — Sycamore Brewing, NoDa Brewing and Olde Mecklenburg Brewery — they have retail distribution, so they're in grocery stores, convenience stores, that kind of thing. I talked to an industry official, he said that a lot of their growth seems to be coming from that retail segment primarily outside of Charlotte.

Terry: It seems like breweries continue to just keep popping up in the Charlotte area, but we’ve also seen some closures, like Weathered Souls recently. Does this boom have a ceiling?

Mecia: Well, there's always a debate over whether Charlotte is over brewery, whether we've hit peak brewery or not. It's hard to know. You do see breweries opening up. For example, Olde Mecklenburg is opening a location pretty soon in Ballantyne — pretty big location there. They've got a few others in the works. I think the trend that you're seeing on breweries opening is they're sort of moving into different areas now. You'll recall one opened in Mint Hill last year.

I mean, I would say that the South End NoDa corridor is pretty saturated. But some of these outlying communities, I think now, are seeing breweries pop up. They're becoming sort of like neighborhood bars.

Terry: Finally Charlotte-based LendingTree has asked the state to end a development grant for the company. Businesses don’t usually turn down money. So why would it do that?

Mecia: So this is a state grant program that is tied to job creation. So when you create jobs, then you get the grant. The last few years have been a little tough for LendingTree, it's actually gone the opposite direction. It's reported layoffs in the last year or two. So it's not creating the jobs that it needs to get that grant money. The company has said that in the current environment, with higher than usual interest rates, the mortgages they sell, that's a little bit tougher. So they're falling on a little bit of harder times.


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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.