ABC stores are money magnets

Perhaps the most robust, fail-safe business venture in Asheville is the retail sale of hard liquor.

Profits from liquor sales in Asheville continue to rise. Frank Worley, the supervisor of Asheville’s Alcoholic Beverage Control system, says current revenues are the highest he’s seen in his 28 years on the job.

Gross sales at local over-the-counter stores and the Mixed Beverage Outlet Center have reached $6.68 million through the first seven months of this fiscal year. That’s $156,363 more than during the same period last year.

“Our financial picture just continues to get better,” Worley told Asheville ABC board members during their monthly meeting in February.

In January alone, local ABC gross sales reached $827,676. After salaries and bills were paid, the net profit for the month was $42,520.

No savings for taxpayers

Mountain Xpress apologizes for suggesting last month that money saved on ABC building projects would benefit the taxpayers.

In fact, Worley explained, the money for land purchases comes out of the working-capital fund, whose balance now stands at a robust $2.1 million.

According to Worley, each local ABC system in North Carolina has a distribution agreement specifying the percentage of profits due to municipal, county and state governments.

The Asheville agreement mandates that the local ABC system retain 20 percent of its net profit, Worley said. That money is to be pumped back into the system in the form of better buildings — which, in turn, should help make even more money, he explained. But if that money isn’t spent, it’s simply squirreled away.

Theoretically, the working-capital fund could carry the local ABC system for a while, if Asheville residents suddenly decided to climb on the wagon.

After Prohibition, other states either sold private liquor licenses or chose to run liquor stores themselves. North Carolina is the only state in the country that found a way to collect liquor profits without being responsible for running those stores.

Voters decided whether to allow the independent ABC systems to form in their communities (Asheville said yes, unincorporated Buncombe said no). Those local ABC organizations were allowed to sell hard liquor, but they had to follow the state’s rules — and they had to funnel most of the profits back to the state and local governments.

The unusual system is frequently misunderstood.

Many people think that, as taxpayers, they pay the salaries of ABC employees, Worley said. Actually, ABC salaries are paid by people who buy liquor.

Calling dibs on dollars

Nonprofits that offer substance-abuse education programs have until March 31 to file funding requests with the Asheville ABC board for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Word already has gotten around that the local ABC system is a potential funding source. There are so many groups interested in donations that “we need to put a hole in that,” said ABC board member Gene Ellison.

The Asheville ABC system is required to direct at least 7 percent of its net profits toward substance-abuse education. That generally comes to $55,000 to $60,000 a year, according to Worley — though there’s nothing to prevent the local board from giving more.

Ellison is particularly interested in prevention-based outreach programs that would affect the most young people possible. Board chair Ralph Morris focuses on recovery programs serving people who already have substance-abuse problems. And new board member Charles Worley doesn’t have an opinion yet, because he’s still getting his feet wet.

Any final decisions are to be postponed until later in the spring — after the board votes on staff pay raises, among other things.

Doing more with less

Two Asheville architects — Mark Lusk (of ENG/6A) and Mike McDonough — are looking for ways to make the ABC warehouse more functional.

The board had asked Beverly-Hanks & Associates to find land for an expanded ABC warehouse and new office space, but the city’s new zoning requirements made that difficult to do, Frank Worley said.

However, both Lusk and McDonough have said they can make improvements to the current space that will increase operational efficiency by at least 30 percent, the supervisor reports.

Frank Worley “has invited us to do some work there on the proposal,” Lusk told the Xpress.

In North Carolina, architectural projects are not required to go through a competitive-bid process.

Couldn’t stay away

A Ringling Brothers’ Barnum & Bailey Circus employee has been held in connection with two break-ins at the Mixed-Beverage Outlet Center at 1 Cherry St.

The man broke the glass door and took 21 bottles of liquor on Feb. 2, then another 31 bottles on Feb. 11, Frank Worley said.

“Strangely enough, he was dumb enough to come back” after the second break-in, the administrator said. “He came back in and wanted a ride down to the train yard.”

A witness helped identify the man, who had served seven years on a New York murder conviction but was out on parole, according to Frank Worley.

The Asheville ABC board meets at 8:30 a.m. the last Tuesday of each month at 1 Cherry St. The meetings are open to the public.

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