THE BOOZE BIN
By Rosalie Morton (@rosaliemo)
When I first arrived in Charlottesville as an undergrad at U.Va., I was flabbergasted that Virginians could not walk into their grocery store and buy liquor. I’d grown accustomed to my dear old Mom and Dad grabbing a bottle of Jack Daniels and setting it in our shopping cart right beside the peanut butter and jelly. Hard liquor is available 24-7-365 in California. And, it’s one of the few things that’s cheaper out west than in Virginia (along with car washes and manicures… who knew).
Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) stores? I thought. Why, that’s a monopoly. I learned in 11th grade U.S. History that monopolies are illegal. And ever since, I’ve been perplexed. Yet, begrudgingly, I still go to the ABC store once a month between the hours of 10 to 9, Monday through Friday, and 1 to 6 on Sunday to restock the liquor cabinet.
Today, I’ve resolved to clear everything up, with a little ABC 101.
Prior to prohibition in the U.S., alcohol was sold like any other good – in stores – as well as in saloons and bars. When the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on Jan. 16, 1919, it ended the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxication within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States…” Basically, if you can’t get your hands on it, it makes it pretty hard to drink it.
Needless to say prohibition wasn’t very popular. Particularly during the Great Depression (doesn’t take a psych degree to figure that one out).
After prohibition was repealed, states were allowed to set their own regulations for alcohol control. Some states decided to continue prohibition, while others left it to individual counties and cities to decide. Today, there are actually still hundreds of these dry counties, where it is illegal to sell or produce alcohol. Most of them are in the South. In fact, almost half of Mississippi’s counties are dry.
The Start of ABC
Virginia’s ABC website does a nice job of explaining the history of ABC stores. Basically, following the ratification of the 21st amendment , which repealed prohibition, Virginia adopted a “plan of liquor control.” This involved a combination of a monopoly on the sale of hard liquor and license system for the sale of lighter beverages.
Back to my original question. How is this legal? It’s a government-granted monopoly, sanctioned by the state… and therefore legal. Uncle Sam wins.
Pros of ABC
- Better control of underage drinking issues
- I’ve always been carded at ABC stores. Always. In fact, when I was underage, I didn’t know any better, and went in with a friend who was 22 at the time. They wouldn’t let her buy alcohol just because I was with her.
- Grant funding for education
- ABC provides thousands of dollars in grand funding to “enhance community coalitions and programs at colleges and universities throughout Virginia.”
- ABC acts as lead coordinatior for the Youth Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Project (YADAPP), which kicked off its summer leadership conference this past Monday. Hundreds of teens have gathered at Longwood University to brainstorm issues facing teens, including underage drinking, illegal drug use, texting and driving and seatbelt use.
Cons of ABC
- From a purely consumer standpoint, ABC will always have its drawbacks. In sunny California we have a store called BevMo, the Disneyland of liquor stores. Is it absinthe you want? In the Pasadena store, there are nine different kinds of absinthe in stock as I type this blog post. The stores are clean and easy-to-navigate. From craft beers to elderflower liqueur, they have it all. It’s delightful.
- You pour your Belvedere into a shaker for a hand-crafted dirty martini. As the last drop hits the cool, metallic vessel, your eyes shoot up to the clock. It’s 9:01 p.m. on Friday and your night just went from looking great to abysmal. ABC is closed for the evening and you’re fresh out of vodka.
It’s interesting, because when I set out to write this post, I was irritated with ABC. It feels so restrictive in America, the land of opportunity and free enterprise. But, as I crafted this post, I actually found a certain fondness for ABC. They’re putting money into initiatives like the YADAPP and they’re trying to keep teens from breaking the law. In comparison, I took a look at BevMo’s site, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of corporate social responsibility going on over there… or at least they aren’t advertising it very well.
What do you think?