Montgomery County’s public liquor control system requires private restaurants and retail beer/wine stores to purchase alcohol exclusively from the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) warehouse; thus, prohibiting them from obtaining alcohol from private distributors.
DLC maintains a list of approximately 29,000 products that can be purchased by restaurants and beer/wine stores. Of that number, about 4,500 are stocked in the warehouse for delivery, whereas about 24,500, primarily craft beer and wine, are special order. Consequently, restaurateurs and store owners are having tremendous problems ordering from the DLC, as too often there is product unavailability combined with low operations and processing performance within DLC.
Unfortunately, Montgomery County’s sales data has shown that county residents are spending their money outside of the county, with the per person in-county sales being about 1/3 less in Montgomery County, compared to Prince George’s, Frederick, and Howard County. This makes it difficult for restaurant owners and beer/wine stores to operate in a geographic location where customers cannot get their choice of alcoholic beverages that are available in other communities. Not only does this have a negative economic impact for our restaurants and stores but it also individuals who depend on jobs in these businesses.
With an evolving consumer environment today and an ever-expanding list of specialty beer and wine, the Montgomery County restaurants and stores need to be able to provide adequate customer service as well as adequate selection and choice.
In July of 2015, Councilman Hans Riemer, among other council members of the Montgomery County’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Liquor Control, has backed a resolution that asks Maryland lawmakers to move forward with this historic reform of allowing the 1,000 restaurants and beer/wine store owners in the county to be able to purchase craft beer and fine wines directly from private distributors. Some restaurants and beer/wine stores today show that up to 90% and even 100% of their beer/wine selections are listed as special order.
The fiscal and employment impact on the county is manageable, especially if the county does an efficient job at running the department in a more profitable manner. In order to achieve that goal, the Ad-Hoc Committee has recommended expanding the number of county liquor stores. Currently, Montgomery Count y operates 25 stores, and with the committee progress already embraced by the County Council and the DLC, the county will open up 3 more stores in 2016, followed by more in subsequent years as part of a “retail modernization” plan.
The Ad-hoc Committee also recommends that Maryland establishes a small fee on distributors for the rights to sell into the county, which is a simple way for Montgomery County to change how it claims revenue from alcohol sales.
The full Council’s actions constitute a recommendation to the Montgomery County delegation in the state legislature, which has jurisdiction over liquor laws. The objective is to advance legislation that will become effective in 2016.