Virginia Retailers Group Backs Liquor Privatization Plan

Independent retailers in Virginia are closer to gaining some of the coveted Alcoholic Beverage Control licenses to sell liquor in the state, after the Virginia Retail Merchants Association came out in favor of the governor’s proposal to take the industry private.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed auctioning off 1,000 licenses to sell liquor in the state, taking the business out of government’s hands. If approved, his plan would provide a projected one-time windfall of $458 million for transportation needs in the state, plus ongoing revenue of $229 million annually from fees.

The VRMA announced its support in a statement: “Our retail members have extensive experience selling alcoholic beverage products in a responsible manner,” it said. “VRMA believes that the retail sale of all products is best served by the private sector.”

Laurie Peterson Aldrich, president of the VRMA, also noted “This is something our organization has supported for some time. This is not a core function of government; retailers should be left to do the retailing.”

Asked if there were any potential pitfalls for VRMA members should the proposal pass, Aldrich was realistic. “It’s all going to depend on how it [the final proposal] is structured. It’s probably going to need some tweaks.”

And there are indeed some roadblocks involved. The governor’s office has set a minimum bid for beer and wine store licenses at $100,000, well beyond the scope of many small owners. And preferences for the licenses will be given to businesses that agree to hire some of the state’s 677 existing ABC employees. But once the licenses are obtained, they can be sold, leased or transferred, pending ABC Commission approval.

Asked what she thought the chances were of the proposal passing, Aldrich said, “Pretty good. But we won’t see anything until after the November elections.”

And what about those fees? “We’re working on it,” she said. “We just had an opportunity to meet with members and that issue came up. We have a fair amount of concern about it.”