The oft-criticized county department that sells and distributes alcoholic beverages has a new name.
As of last Monday, the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) became the Alcohol Beverage Service (ABS).
The new name emphasizes customer service and “better defines the department’s work,” according to a county press release.
“Over the past two years, we have worked tirelessly to improve operations and our reputation, and we are now running like a business,” ABS Director Bob Dorfman said in a statement. “We’ve brought in new management, invested in new technology and infrastructure, streamlined and updated processes, implemented a marketing department and elevated customer service and communication efforts.”
The name change comes with minimal cost to the department, ABS Marketing Manager Emily DeTitta said in an email. Business cards will need to be updated and a few signs will be changed, along with a website remodel. The department’s building and delivery trucks do not bear its name.
ABS also has its own tagline: “A Business of Montgomery County Government.”
“This tagline directly reinforces that we think of our organization as a business and are committed to earning our customers’ business each day,” Dorfman said.
Freshman County Council Member Andrew Friedson, who supports privatizing the sale and distribution of alcohol in the county, told Bethesda Beat Sunday that the name change doesn’t address his concerns about the department.
“I’m less interested in taking control out of the name and more interested in introducing real competition to the process,” Friedson said. “The issue isn’t marketing. It’s the monopoly itself. Changing the name doesn’t change the fundamental problem — that county government’s control over alcohol sales and distribution stifles competition, hurts consumers and limits our economic potential.”
As the controlling jurisdiction of alcohol wholesale distribution in the county, ABS is also tasked with educating licensed establishments, promoting responsible intake and assisting the business community with changing laws and regulations.
The county’s 25 retail stores will remain the same for now, with updates to come in the fall, including making them more modern and consumer-friendly. One model store will be redesigned and get a new name, while the others will be updated gradually, DeTitta said.
The DLC was established in 1951 to regulate county liquor sales, replacing the Liquor Control Board. The recent change to ABS required a new state law, approved by the Maryland General Assembly in its 2019 session and going into effect on July 1.
“The DLC sounds like a correctional facility,” St. Arnold’s Mussel Bar Co-Founder Mark Moore said.
Moore said he goes to three county retail stores to supply his Bethesda restaurant and is treated well at each of them. He added the department has improved greatly over the last couple years, with improved customer service and a more streamlined delivery process.
“Is it perfect? No. But it’s gotten a lot better,” Moore said.
Brian Vasile owns Brickside Food & Drink in Bethesda in addition to a pair of restaurants in Washington, D.C. He’s against government control of liquor sales, a sentiment closely associated with the department’s former name.
“They know the term DLC has a negative connotation, so they’re doing their best to rebrand themselves,” Vasile said.
Valise said the department does well in marketing, communication and legislative efforts, but struggles with its distribution system. He added that while a full rebrand might be necessary, the name change could help.
“It’s a good start, I’m hopeful,” Valise said.
The department generates about $30 million in profits for the county. Former Bethesda Del. Bill Frick sponsored a bill in December 2015 that called for a referendum to ask voters about allowing private distributors to compete with the county stores, but the legislation failed to gain support from the county’s House delegation.
Comptroller Peter Franchot has long been a supporter of privatizing alcohol sales and backed Frick’s bill. Franchot was stripped of his power over tobacco and alcohol sales regulation by the Maryland General Assembly in March.
Charlie Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org