Department of Liquor Control Plans To Approve ‘Agency’ Liquor Stores by January

Department of Liquor Control Plans To Approve ‘Agency’ Liquor Stores by January

Department's director looks to set criteria over next six months for privately owned stores to sell liquor

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The interior of a Montgomery County liquor store

Bethesda Beat file photo - Doug Tallman

More liquor stores could be coming to Montgomery County soon.

Robert Dorfman, director of the county’s Department of Liquor Control, said Thursday he’s looking into establishing criteria so the department can contract with privately owned beer and wine stores to sell spirits such as vodka, rum or whiskey.

A state bill approved by the General Assembly this year gave the county the right to establish “agency” stores to sell liquor and enabled the DLC to determine the criteria by which the department will approve stores to sell spirits. Currently, liquor is only sold at the 27 county-run liquor stores.

The bill was designed to give county residents additional options for buying liquor after liquor industry representatives told legislators that the county was underserved by the existing number of stores when compared to state and nationwide averages.

“There clearly are areas that may be underserved,” Dorfman said Thursday after a meeting with the County Council’s Public Safety Committee. “We need to take a look at the data and use this as an opportunity to increase availability.”

Dorfman said he plans to convene a group comprised of alcohol producers, beer and wine store owners and others to determine the best method for setting the criteria that will guide which stores get the right to sell spirits. The county will look to protect the business of county-run stores by not approving new liquor stores located near them, Dorfman said.

“We understand there’s winners and losers,” Dorfman said in response to a reporter's question. “But we want to upset the least amount of people, if any at all, by doing this right.” He also said the county would ensure that liquor stores don’t “end up on every corner.”

Dorfman added the county hopes to have approved stores to sell liquor later this year so that the retailers can start selling spirits on Jan. 1.

Dorfman and other DLC leaders appeared before the council committee Thursday to discuss the department’s $65.2 million fiscal 2018 budget proposed by County Exeuctive Ike Leggett. The budget is about $2 million more than current spending. The department controls the wholesale distribution of alcohol in the county as well as the retail sale of liquor.

The budget includes funds to buy four new distribution trucks, accelerate marketing efforts, renovate county liquor stores and improve the scanning system at the department’s Gaithersburg warehouse to better track products. Dorfman said the department still expects to generate about $32 million in annual profits for the county—$10 million of which is spent on debt service  while the other $22 million goes to the county’s general fund.

The committee’s three council members—Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker and Sidney Katz—said they were encouraged by improvements they’ve seen at the department. They also each supported an idea for a county superstore that would give customers a one-stop shop for all their alcohol buying needs.

Over the past two years the county has installed new leadership at the department, bringing in experts from the private sector after restaurant and beer and wine store owners in the county complained about poor service and numerous delivery issues. Dorfman joined the department in January after spending nearly two decades as an executive at Marriott International as well as running his own franchise restaurant business.

Dorfman said he’s taking steps to turn around the embattled department and to run it more like a business than a government entity.

“I’ve always believed from the beginning there’s no natural impediment to us running this like a business,” Elrich said. “I’m really happy we’ve taken the steps to put this in play and actually hired professional managers who know something about the thing they’re managing.”

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