Restaurateurs and retailers are getting behind a move by House lawmakers that would fix the antiquated way North Carolina stores, distributes, and sells spirits.

The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association and N.C.Retail Merchants Association have come out publicly in support of House Bill 971, which would set up a licensure model to sell liquor in North Carolina.

A group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, introduced the bill Thursday, April 25.

The Modern Licensure Model for Alcohol Control basically clears a path for private liquor stores in North Carolina. The bill’s other primary sponsors are Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford; Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln; and Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford.

NCRLA President and CEO Lynn Minges, as well as NCRMA President and General Counsel Andy Ellen, have called on state residents and consumers to help #FreeTheSpirits, a news release says.

“We believe the government must continue to play an important role in the oversight of our ABC system,” says Minges, “but we also have a need for a more modern and efficient system that offers mixed beverage permittees access to specialized products, electronic ordering and payment systems, secure delivery to their establishments, and overall improvements to business processes and efficiency.

“The introduction of this bill is an important step in the transition to a better sales and distribution model that will still allow the ABC Commission to focus in on regulatory control while also benefitting North Carolina businesses and consumers.”

“There is not another product on the market that the state is in the business of selling by controlling, regulating, and allocating tax dollars,” Ellen says. ““We support an approach that forges a fiscally responsible path, one that will uphold public safety and tax collection while continuing support for existing programs and driving additional local revenue opportunities across North Carolina.”

North Carolina is the only state in which some 170 independent boards exert local control over liquor sales. It has the second lowest outlet density in the nation, with only .58 ABC stores per 10,000 people, the new release says.

“In addition, many North Carolinians have a desire to support local products, from produce to packaged goods to locally brewed beer, and there is an opportunity to improve access to spirits being produced by the state’s nearly 60 distilleries,” the release says. “Also, there are specialty spirits and craft brands that are simply not made available in North Carolina.”

Businesses must navigate an antique process to order, receive, and sell spirits in North Carolina, the groups say.

“For example, for a restaurant or bar to place an order, they are able to browse and order online but are restricted to what is in stock in the county’s inventory — even if a neighboring county is showing availability. Once the order is placed, they must physically send an employee to an ABC warehouse to pick up the order, compared to having wine or beer delivered. Often, the employee is using a personal vehicle to load and unload the heavy boxes with high-value product; and since most ABC stores won’t accept electronic payment from wholesale customers, the restaurant must pay in cash or provide a check for the exact amount.”