Stateways Sept-Oct 2011

StateWays is the only magazine exclusively covering the control state system within the beverage alcohol industry, with annual updates from liquor control commissions and alcohol control boards and yearly fiscal reporting from control jurisdictions

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Starting from Scratch W hile nearly half a dozen states were consid- ering privatizing their retail and wholesale liquor operations in 2010, one jurisdiction debated whether to bring its independent board under government control. Ultimately, Worcester County, MD decided to disband its state sanctioned, autonomous Liquor Control Board and replace it with a Department of Liquor Control, which operates under the direction of the County Commissioners. The new department, which operates much like its counterpart in Montgomery County, MD, is headed by Director Robert Cowger, Jr., who answers not only to County Administrator Jerry Mason, but licensees and constituents as well. The law outlining the change includes a sunset provision that would end the county's monopoly on wholesale distribution of alcohol on or before 2016, something Cowger said benefits licensees. "They'll have the option to buy products from either the coun- ty or distributors based on the best price available to them," he says. "It protects the mom and pop estab- lishments that can't afford to buy products directly in a large enough quantity to receive discounted prices available to large bars and restaurants." Given the contentious meetings that preceded the legislation abolishing the LCB, Cowger's biggest con- 10 cern during the transition has been rebuilding trust with licensees and citizens, who accused the old board of changing prices, favoring certain brands over others and unnecessarily raising board members' salaries. "The biggest challenge is building relationships and trust with licensees who are distrustful of autonomous oversight of wholesale liquor distribution," Cowger says. "We're striving to rebuild that trust through transparency of operations and an open door policy with licensees." Worcester County Facts & Figures Licensees: 200 Retail stores: 6 2011 Sales: Approx. $15 million (as of August 15) Retail: Down 10 percent from 2010 Wholesale: Up 16 percent over 2010 The new department was set up just in time for tourist season, which is especially important in Worcester County. Nearly 90 percent of the county's StateWays s s September/October 2011

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