Hans Riemer Credit: Hans Riemer Official Facebook Page

County Councilmember Hans Riemer says he’s prepared to take on a reform of the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC).

“I think there’s no question that we need to reform our system,” Riemer said. “I think the county could probably improve its revenues if it had a better, more customer-focused operation.”

Riemer said customers expect variety—hundreds of craft beers, an extensive selection of wines, and unique spirits—which is difficult for the DLC to deliver.

“It’s really hard for restaurants that want to offer a lot of variety,” Riemer said, “and that’s kind of the name of the game right now.”

Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the country that controls both the retail and wholesale beer, wine and liquor market. The current liquor control system nets the county about $25 million a year in revenue and employs more than 300 union workers in the retail and wholesale operations.

Concerns about the current system returned to the spotlight after a recent Washington Post op-ed, a Bethesda Magazine report and a comment last week by state Comptroller Peter Franchot, who said that reforming the system is “winnable.” However, Franchot also said that the revenue the current systems produces for the county generates strong political support for the DLC that keeps elected officials from challenging the status quo. Franchot said he would be willing to have his office conduct a study on the economic impact of privatization, and he urged business owners to take the lead on the issue.

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Riemer said he has already begun taking on the issue in his role as a principal advocate for the Nighttime Economy Task Force, which last year released an extensive list of recommendations, including later business hours for bars and undertaking an Office of Legislative Oversight study to better understand how the DLC can improve its services.

“I’m going to attack this issue and try to make a change,” Riemer said. He added that he wants to figure out how to make the existing DLC run more like a business.

“If it’s viable to make some big changes at the Department of Liquor Control that make it more supportive of local restaurants and more market competitive in terms of service, then I think that would be great,” Riemer said. “If that’s impossible, then we have to think of more drastic options.”

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Restaurateurs currently cite a 25 percent markup on special orders as a problem, as well as the inability to know if what they order will actually be delivered. Customers, meanwhile, have complained about the lack of retail stores and the stores’ limited selection, according to the recent Bethesda Magazine article on the DLC.

“I think we should have retail stores that are attractive and well-staffed,” Riemer said. “Right now, sort of, we don’t do that.”

As for the 300-plus DLC employees who are members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 MCGEO, and who have fought privatization efforts in the past, Riemer said he plans to help them no matter what happens.

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“There’s no question that those employees need to be taken care of,” Riemer said. “That’s an assumption for me, that whatever we do, those guys are OK.”

Riemer said he doesn’t believe reforming the DLC will create a safety issue in terms of providing more access to alcohol or more opportunities for minors to purchase it. But he said he understands the need to preserve the county’s character.

“I think it’s good we don’t have liquor stores on every corner,” Riemer said. “I think there’s a benefit to having some controls.”

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But he said choice and providing consumers with what they want is at the center of the issue.

“The culture is changing,” Riemer said. “Our model works fine if all you want is Bud or Coors, but if you want to serve hundreds of kinds of different drinks, that model becomes a real problem for the restaurants.”