N.C. state lawmaker talks changes to ABC system after new report released

Rep. Chuck McGrady, co-chair on the House ABC committee, is pushing for changes to the way liquor is sold in North Carolina. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

A new report came out Monday as a mountain lawmaker pushed for changes to the way liquor is sold in North Carolina.

The report from the Program Evaluation Division looked into whether changes are needed with government-controlled liquor stores — or ABC stores — in the state.

"We've got prohibition-era style laws right now that deal with distilled spirits," state Rep. Chuck McGrady, co-chair on the House ABC committee, said.

He planned to introduce two proposals in February.

One proposal would combine ABC boards.

"Right here in Henderson County, we have three local governments that have ABC boards, two of them only have one store,” McGrady said. “Their revenues are below average, their costs are above average and, therefore, they're returning less money to the school systems than they could if they were just run more efficiently."

McGrady said perhaps the most efficient way would be to close government-controlled liquor stores and allow people to get a license to open their own liquor stores — his other proposal .

"We could probably return the same amount or more money to local governments without them having to set up ABC boards," McGrady said.

"The ABC boards have given in excess of $400 million back to the state,” Lewis Isaac, chair of the Asheville ABC board, said. “What would be profit in a private store ends up coming back to the organization it sponsors."

Isaac said he thinks privatizing liquor stores would mean less money for the state and higher prices for consumers.

"You buy a bottle of liquor in Wilmington or Charlotte or Chapel Hill or Asheville and it's the same price," Isaac said.

According to the latest report from the state, state and local governments may not lose out on any money with ending government-controlled liquor stores. But, prices could increase.

Of course, that depends on the store.

"There's a need for it, there's already a market demand for it,” Jamie Howton, co-founder of West Asheville bottle shop Local 604, said.

Howton said, far too often, customers from out-of-state wander in his store looking for liquor.

"All the time, yeah," Howton said.

So, he said, he was in support of being able to sell liquor.

"People come here without the knowledge that they can't buy liquor after 9 p.m., and they can't buy it on a Sunday. It's kind of disappointing to a lot of them. I think it would definitely help people's experience in town," Howton said.

Seventeen states have some form of direct control over the sales of liquor.