“Folks look for any sort of holiday to go out to a bar and celebrate, and St. Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest,” says Jason Thacker, operations manager of the Asheville Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. That entity manages the sale of “spirituous liquor” to retail and mixed-beverage (bar and restaurant) customers from 10 local ABC stores, three of which are retail only.
Bars and restaurants in Buncombe County had ordered accordingly for the boozy March 17 celebration; then the curtain came down via Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order issued that afternoon closing all such establishments to customers. Thacker’s office started receiving calls immediately that day from business owners fretting about having purchased all that spirituous liquor with no partygoers to sell it to.
“Typically, we don’t mind taking back unopened bottles of alcohol from bars and restaurants, but we do it as a credit toward their next purchase,” Thacker says. “But no one knows when that will be, and we know they are struggling.”
In response, the local ABC has agreed to buy back any liquor ordered and purchased from the board March 14-17 and apply the refund to businesses’ credit cards. “It won’t cover everything for them, but if we can help them out at all, we’ll do it,” says Thacker.
Meanwhile, ABC stores remain open to retail customers, though the hours have been limited to 11 a.m.-7 p.m., in part to ease the strain on workers facing a tremendous spike of shoppers. “Bars and restaurants normally account for 33% of our business,” says Thacker. “I checked sales March 24 — a week after [bars and restaurants] closed — and we were up 15%, so that is all retail customers.”
He says ABC shops will keep operating through the pandemic as long as the state allows. “Judging from sales, a lot of people think we’re an essential service,” Thacker says.