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Editorial: State sends mixed drinking message

Editorial: State sends mixed drinking message

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PHOTO: ABC store

Business is apparently still booming at Virginia’s ABC stores. The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority announced that its retail sales increased 14.7% and its total revenue reached $1.4 billion for fiscal 2021 — for a total profit of $616.4 million, which was $71.1 million more than the state-run liquor stores made during fiscal 2020.

Virginians may recall that the ABC stores were considered “essential retail” under Gov. Ralph Northam’s March 23, 2020, COVID Executive Order 53 and allowed to remain open, although they operated under reduced hours and limited capacity to 10 customers at a time.

The same executive order closed down “restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms” where patrons were likely to buy alcoholic beverages, so ABC stores had what’s called a competitive advantage, especially since there’s reportedly an ABC store within 10 miles of 92% of all Virginians.

“The resourcefulness and dedication of our ABC teammates, especially those in retail and distribution, enabled us to overcome tremendous challenges to achieve a record-breaking year,” ABC’s CEO Travis Hill said. “Leveraging our flexibility as an independent authority and the creativity of our employees, we have become nimbler and more customer-focused, enabling us to better serve Virginians at the highest level for decades to come.”

ABC has had such a successful year, in fact, that it also increased sales to privately owned licensed establishments by 5.6% in fiscal 2021.

With ABC’s profits at a record high, maybe this isn’t the time to ask why the state government is still running a chain of 395 liquor stores some 88 years after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Virginia is one of just a handful of states that has a monopoly on the sale of distilled spirits, while it oversees the sale of beer and wine.

The money the agency contributes to state coffers helps pay for various education and health programs.

But if these programs were as successful as its retail stores, we would expect to see a steady drop in alcohol sales, since heavy drinking is associated with a variety of serious health conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia and cirrhosis.

Also last year, nearly a third of all traffic deaths in Virginia involved alcohol-related crashes and more than 14,000 people were convicted of driving under the influence.

The Virginia State Police arrested 59 impaired drivers on Virginia’s highways just during this month’s three-day Labor Day weekend.

Ironically, just as ABC was announcing record sales and profits, Gov. Northam was also announcing the 20th annual Checkpoint Strikeforce DUI campaign.

The campaign is aimed at getting Virginians not to drive after drinking the booze the commonwealth is more than happy to sell them.

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