The way North Carolina buys, stores, and sells liquor is monopolistic and inherently problematic, recently highlighted by issues resulting from the pandemic.
Free markets be damned.
I’ve written all this, of course. Too many times to count. I’ve also written a book about people making spirits in North Carolina, all the while under the sagging umbrella of N.C. General Statute 18B, the laws governing liquor in the state.
The law is voluminous and would challenge even the brightest lawmakers and lawyers, let alone people buying, selling, and making the liquor. It’s way too much.
Again, I’ve said this. Too many times. Honestly, I’m tired of hearing myself write about it. It’s a problem, this whole N.C. ABC system. For customers, for producers, for free markets.
What I haven’t written about — or have written little about — are the people doing the best work they can to navigate this antiquated system, to the benefit of customers and producers alike. People such as those working in rural and less populous parts of the state. People who deliver diverse selections and rare finds, which in many stores is virtually unheard of, particularly in the bigger counties and cities.
ABC stores in Rockingham, Chatham, Harnett, and Davie counties, for example, won’t ever be confused with liquor stores in Kentucky, but the boards and managers are trying, or at least at one point have tried. The store managers and employees there are ready to help customers and producers. Those willing to work harder to build relations, to build trust. These are people who care. As if they had a monetary stake in the store’s profitabilty, beyond their own paychecks.
I have much respect for some of the people who work for the system itself. People such as Jeff Strickland, public affairs director for the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, and Kat Haney before him.
Regardless of what I write, or may be writing, Strickland is consistently professional, willing to answer questions if he has the answers and willing to tell you he doesn’t. He’s also quick to call me on errors or inaccuracies, and he’s quick to answer or return my calls. I’d like to think we’ve developed some form of mutual respect.
To place this in proper context, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, never responds to requests for comment from Carolina Journal. Neither he nor his staff acknowledge our emails or calls, to the point of even failing to offer a “no,” “no comment,” or “Go jump off a cliff!” It’s disrespectful and unprofessional, particularly from our so-called “transparency governor.”
I’ve written about that, too, but probably not enough.
I do, however, think Cooper made a wise choice in selecting Hank Bauer to chair the commission. He replaced A.D. Zander Guy Jr., who abruptly resigned last year. Bauer is former general manager at Empire Distributors, where he was also director of sales and on-premise director. That experience in private enterprise will help, and I’m looking forward to working with him.
Make no mistake, the ABC as it has stood for almost 90 years is irreparably broken, although certain lawmakers have worked to make it easier to use and navigate. Still, it’s much like putting new tires on a beat-up Chevette. It might get you there, but by no means will it offer a fine motoring experience.
Many of the people driving that shaky car, in any case, make the trip a bit more tolerable.
John Trump is managing editor of Carolina Journal and author of “Still & Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State.”