by Brenée Goforth
Media Manager & Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
The Coronavirus has many people rushing to grocery stores and other establishments and stocking up for what could be weeks or even months of quarantine. One of the establishments getting hit the hardest is North Carolina’s string of ABC stores. My local ABC store in Mecklenburg County often has a line that wraps around the building.
In a recent piece in Carolina Journal, John Trump explains how the Coronavirus outbreak has unveiled the weaknesses in our system of government-controlled liquor distribution. Trump writes:
[T[he ancient, unique-in-the-U.S. system, in which 170 boards around the state control the flow of liquor to consumers, is existentially flawed and irreparable. It’s beyond 80 years old, yet calling it outdated is an insult to understatement…
The boards continue operating the stores — as of this writing, anyway — sans conceivable rhyme nor reason. Some boards are cutting hours, even as a growing propensity to hoard intensifies. Some have ABC workers meeting customers at the door and limiting access to store aisles. I guess that’s OK if you’re loyal to a specific brand or product, but the idea dissuades bourbon scouts or customers seeking variety or a rare surprise from venturing out. Why bother?
People can still get that cheap bottle of vodka, but wasn’t the ABC system set up to curtail that type of consumption in the first place?
Some boards have made a way for people to browse online, but those are few. Private stores would be best, but a centralized state system, such as Virginia’s, would at least be a step forward.
Virginia’s ABC system provides a better customer experience, Trump writes:
Virginia offers consumers an online catalog, applying to all stores, so people can search and find products before leaving home. A bill weaving its way through the Kentucky legislature would allow residents to order spirits — beer and wine, too — online for delivery to their homes. Conversely, Pennsylvania has closed its state-run liquor stores, and I fear North Carolina isn’t far behind.
North Carolina’s distillers continue to face intransigent ABC boards and a dearth of shelf space. Always dodging the big guns of Crown, Beam, and the like. Traveling the state for a chance to place their products in far-flung stores. Developing networks and partnerships to better traverse the uneven and pockmarked roads laid over 80 years by scores of lawmakers and bureaucrats. Cajoling those lawmakers and bureaucrats and simultaneously fending off prohibitionists and ideological lobbyists.