Liquor sales grow steadily
by Anna Oakes
The Boone ABC Board is studying the feasibility of expanding the current store building on Blowing Rock Road because of steady sales growth.
The store, which offers liquor for sale to consumers for personal consumption and to restaurants for mixed drinks, continues to see growth in sales, including a 6.13 percent year-over-year increase in gross sales in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012.
The Boone ABC store generated $4,951,973 in gross sales in fiscal year 2011-12, and its profit margin of 12.98 percent was among the highest in the state. Walk-in sales amounted to $4.05 million, while mixed beverage sales to restaurants and other establishments totaled $879,660.
Ronnie Holste, chairman of the Boone ABC board, confirmed that the board is working with an architect to develop "very preliminary" plans for an expansion.
"We are in the process of looking at that," Holste said. "Our storage space is kind of lacking."
While any project would focus primarily on the store's warehouse space, the board could opt to expand the front sales area as well to add more products, said Holste.
If the board moves forward with an expansion project, debt service would be paid through ABC revenues. The project could require approval from the Boone Town Council or staff, depending on the nature of the plans.
"We want their approval," Holste said. "We're not going to do anything without it."
The ABC store was most recently renovated in 2006 -- an 875-square-foot addition to the sales area. In August 2008, Boone voters approved liquor-by-the-drink in a referendum, allowed mixed drinks to be sold at restaurants and hotels in town. In fiscal year 2011-12, mixed beverage sales accounted for 17.8 percent of the Boone ABC store's business.
Boone's ABC sales growth followed a statewide trend in 2011-12, when retail liquor sales increased 6.54 percent over the previous fiscal year. Holste said Boone is on pace for another sales increase in fiscal year 2012-13.
Holste, who has worked in the substance abuse prevention field, acknowledged the negative aspects of increased liquor sales.
"We always know that alcohol sales increase when times are getting tough. That's a terrible time for it to increase," he said. "People have more idle hands."
A 2011 study published in Health Economics suggests that along with higher unemployment and bankruptcy, an economic recession brings increased drinking of alcohol.
But polls by Gallup indicate that the percentage of Americans who say they drink alcohol has remained steady -- between 62 and 66 percent over the past decade. The polling organization reported that 66 percent of Americans drank alcohol in July 2012, compared with 64 percent in July 2011.
Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said it is uncertain if Boone is seeing an increase in alcohol-related crimes.
"I can tell you that we have increased our focus on driving while impaired and underage drinking," Crawford said. "Also, we have also increased enforcement of alcohol-related offenses on game days."
After costs and state taxes, revenues from ABC sales are distributed to local governments, law enforcement and alcohol education programs. In 2012, the Boone ABC board distributed $25,116 to law enforcement, $60,279 for alcohol education and $547,462 to the town of Boone.
"We want to be as efficient as we can as a store so that the town benefits more," Holste said.
Other area ABC stores also saw sales growth in fiscal year 2011-12: Blowing Rock, $1.4 million, a 2.88 percent increase; High Country (Avery County), $2.6 million, 1.1 percent increase; and West Jefferson, $1.4 million, 3.39 percent increase.