Plenty of cash to go around in the ABC system

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Buncombe County retail businesses began selling beer and wine again precisely one day after the end of Prohibition in 1933.

But it wasn’t until 1947 that North Carolina residents could buy hard liquor in their home state — through state-controlled Alcoholic Beverage Control stores. And you couldn’t belly up to a bar for a mixed drink here — not legally, anyway — until the 1970s. (Facts courtesy of Frank Worley, Asheville ABC supervisor.)

Now, however, the cork is out of the bottle, sales are up, and profits continue to bubble like champagne. As of March 31, nine months into the fiscal year, sales were up $217,000, and profits were $19,371 higher than the previous year to that date. Most of those increases are derived from retail-store sales, not from the mixed-beverage outlet, which sells wholesale to bars and restaurants.

“Each month, we’ve having increases,” Worley told the Asheville ABC Board during its monthly meeting in April. In the past month, Asheville sales were up 2.6 percent — far above the statewide 1.6 percent average increase. “This is about the third month in a row we’ve beat the state average,” Worley says.

The system’s working capital hovers at about $2.15 million.

Vying for dollars

By law, the local ABC system must spend at least 7 percent of its net profits on local programs offering education and rehabilitation substance-abuse problems of any type.

Traditionally, the Flynn Home and the Western Carolina Rescue Mission have shared that cash. But in the past couple of years, more groups have started asking for their share.

The Health Adventure, Hospitality House, One Youth at a Time and Life on Life’s Terms all have filed requests for money in the coming fiscal year — as have the old standbys.

Between 1996 and 1998, the Asheville ABC system gave $66,385 to the Flynn Home and $44,257 to the Rescue Mission.

The Health Adventure and Hospitality House received $2,500 from the ABC system in 1996. Hospitality House received another $3,000 in 1997. Then in 1998, One Youth at a Time got $4,000, and Life on Life’s Terms got $6,000.

Three groups receiving ABC money in recent years did not file requests this year: the Buncombe County Drug Commission, which got $2,500 in 1996; New Hope Community Health Center, which got $2,000 in 1997; and First Step Farms, which got $5,000 in 1997.

Each group asking for a donation this year will be asked to make a brief presentation and answer questions during the May 26 board meeting. ABC meetings are held at 1 Cherry St., on the last Tuesday of each month, at 8:30 a.m., and they are open to the public.

Green light on renovations

It sounds like a done deal: The ABC system probably will have its offices renovated and its warehouse remodeled for an estimated $300,000, plus $25,000 in furnishings.

Worley had been working with Beverly-Hanks & Associates to find a piece of land in Asheville that could accommodate a new administration building and a larger warehouse. Instead, the ABC board intends to spruce up its current 0.8-acre lot at 1 Cherry St.

“Man, I’d rather spend $300,000 than $3 million,” said board member Gene Ellison. “You can’t build a building for less than $3 million.”

Thanks to the Unified Development Ordinance, the only parcel on the market that’s large enough and zoned for warehouse use is located along the French Broad River.

“And it’d be in the floodplain,” said board chair Ralph Morris.

“There’s just no suitable space” to buy, Worley said. So the board might as well vote for the renovations, he suggested: “The money is obviously there. We have not upgraded or renovated this place in 30-some-odd years.”

The board will not publicly bid out the architectural work. Under North Carolina law, they don’t have to.

Strictly business

Not long after the flap about city and county officials attending a posh coastal South Carolina retreat organized by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, the ABC system is preparing to travel to an annual meeting sponsored by the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association. Its members include the 17 states (and one county in Maryland) in which liquor is sold solely by government agencies.

The meeting will be held May 30-June 3 at Marcos Island, Fla.

“Obviously, they always have meetings in nice places,” Worley said. However, the agendas always are very busy, he insisted, and only resort towns are large enough to host such a big group.

There’s one big difference between this meeting and the Chamber retreat: Although taxpayers’ money was used to send some elected officials to Seabrook Island Resort, no tax money supports the ABC system. The ABC cash comes strictly from the profit on liquor sales, and the state sets the prices.

Morris already announced he will not attend. Board member Charles Worley asked for a copy of the itinerary.

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