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Liquor sales allowed this Election Day

Kenny Kemp
Donnie Boggess, assistant manager at The Liquor Co. on Charleston's West Side, stocks shelves Monday. Liquor retailers will be open Tuesday after the state repealed the ban on Election Day liquor sales.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia liquor retailers have waited a long time to be able to sell liquor on an election day -- 148 years to be exact.

So they're ecstatic to be keeping their doors open when voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect a new governor in West Virginia.

Earlier this year, state legislators rescinded a law that prohibited liquor sales on election days. West Virginia's 178 liquor retailers pushed for the change.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Donnie Boggess, assistant manager at The Liquor Co. in Charleston. "It's a positive for customers, all the bars and the independent guys like us across the state. It really helps us."

The liquor sales ban dated back to the state's founding in 1863 and was designed to prevent swapping liquor for votes, among other things.

The secretary of state's office estimated that liquor retailers lost $1 million in sales during last year's U.S. Senate special election. The May 14 gubernatorial primary -- held after the new law passed but before it took effect -- also hurt sales significantly, retailers said.

In recent weeks, retailers have been talking to customers, spreading the word that they'll have regular hours Tuesday.

"Our store owners across the state have fully stocked shelves and appreciate the opportunity to conduct business," said Bridget Lambert, director of the West Virginia Retailers Association, a group that pushed for the repeal of the Election Day liquor ban. "It's refreshing that West Virginia has banished this antiquated law."

West Virginia was one of only a handful of states with such a ban until lawmakers repealed it during this year's regular session.

The ban only applied to bottled liquor sales; bars and restaurants could still serve liquor to customers. Those bars and restaurants, however, depend on retailers for liquor supplies.

Retailers buy liquor from the state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration warehouse.

The ABCA and the Retailers Association have worked closely to get the word out about the new law.

"It's business as usual," said Gig Robinson, ABCA spokesman. "We don't anticipate any problems or concerns."

The state also was losing liquor tax revenues. West Virginia has a 10 percent tax on liquor sales.

"Election Day alcohol bans are a relic of the Prohibition era when saloons sometimes served as polling places," said Ben Jenkins, spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council trade group. "The ban simply doesn't make sense in today's economy, and repealing it gives consumers more modern convenience -- whether you're celebrating election returns or mourning them."

Retail liquor sales remain illegal on Sunday in West Virginia.

Boggess said the Election Day liquor ban created delivery problems for the store on Patrick Street. The Liquor Co. normally receives deliveries from the state ABCA warehouse on Tuesdays.

Boggess noted that other liquor retailers, such as Walmart, Rite Aid and Sam's Club, weren't affected as much by the Election Day ban because chain stores' liquor sales make up only a small portion of their overall sales.

The Election Day ban never applied to bottled beer and wine sales.

The Liquor Co. closed its doors on previous election days, realizing it couldn't turn a profit on beer and wine sales alone. Not this year. The store opens at 10 a.m. Tuesday -- 3 1/2 hours after polls open in West Virginia.

"This is a really good thing for the independent businesses," Boggess said. "It helps us keep everything in sync."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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