I am left wondering...does it even matter that the beer is any good???]
Yes and no. I think it often comes down to the experience the brewery offers to the customer. You're in the PNW so I'm sure you've been to a McMennamins. Mediocre beer (and food) but the experience at many of their locations (with the exception of the strip mall locations) is unique. Beer is a social beverage, so time and place and company matters in brewery experiences. If a brewery produces average beer but appeals to the social aspects, I believe it will succeed. You might not seek its beer out in the grocery store, but you might meet up with friends for a pint at the brewery because of the experience you will have. Maybe I'm waaaay off on this one. I know my wife and I select breweries to visit based on the social aspects more than if the beer is exceptional or not; I can find those exceptional beers at the store.