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May is Tavern Month: Support Local Bars & Taverns with Legislation to Replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund

BETHESDA, MD – For the 69th consecutive year, May is Tavern Month and bars and taverns across the United States are celebrating the positive impact they have on their local economies, the good jobs they provide and the key role they play in maintaining the social discourse of the country.

But despite dutifully and gladly serving friends, neighbors, and communities, all is not well for the “Friendliest Place in Town.”

Many bars and taverns face considerable challenges as they navigate the road to pre-pandemic business levels including rampant inflation, job shortages, and supply chain disruptions.  These obstacles to growth are in addition to paying back loans and debt taken on just to keep their businesses afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.  With over 90,000 restaurants and bars closing during the pandemic, and thousands more on the precipice of shuttering their doors for good, there’s little time left to preserve such an important sector of the American economy.

“From March 2020 through March 2021, bar and restaurant sales of beer, wine and spirits declined by $90 billion,” ABL Executive Director John Bodnovich.  “The level of loss was catastrophic for many small, single-unit operators who still find themselves financially digging out in the face of heightening inflation, supply chain challenges and labor shortages that show no sign of waning.”

That’s why “America’s Beer, Wine and Spirits Retailers” are calling on Congress to pass legislation that would allocate funds to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) and meet the needs of hard-hit hospitality businesses that applied for federal relief over a year ago.  Only one-third of businesses that applied received relief before the $28.6 billion fund was depleted.

This April, the House of Representatives passed the Relief for Restaurants and Other Hard Hit Small Businesses Act of 2022 (H.R. 3807), which would allocate $42 billion for the RRF. Now, the Senate must do its part by passing a relief measure.  By doing so, Congress will be investing in American small businesses owners through a proven Small Business Administration program that has already succeeded in keeping over 100,000 bars and restaurants open.

“Supporting and celebrating America’s bars and taverns this May means getting them the resources they need to remain some of America’s last Main Street businesses,” said Bodnovich.  “Hopefully, the worst of COVID-19 is behind us, but its negative impact lingers for tens of thousands of small businesses left behind when federal relief funds ran dry in 2021. Beverage licensees are asking Congress to finish the job it started last year.”

This May, join ABL and state associations representing bars and taverns in supporting hospitality businesses as they fight to keep serving their communities.  Congress needs to know that the great American traditions of conviviality and hospitality are at stake, and there’s no better place to continue those than at a local tavern, the Friendliest Place in Town.

Beverage Alcohol Retailers Alert State Legislators & Regulators of Liquor Supplier Direct-To-Consumer Push

Public Safety, Competition and Vibrant Alcohol Marketplace Hang in the Balance

BETHESDA, MD – March 31, 2022 – As the 2022 legislative season continues in state capitals across the country, America’s beer, wine and spirits retailers are alerting state legislators about a growing push to unnecessarily and fundamentally change state-based beverage alcohol markets that are already meeting consumer needs and the public safety standards of communities.

Campaigns to rapidly implement Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) liquor sales – a liquor supplier shipping alcohol that has not gone through a three-tier system of checks and balances, across state lines via common carrier directly to an end user – are becoming more prevalent.

Retail beverage licensees are speaking up to educate and inform their state legislators of the problems that would come with changing these laws and creating a virtually unregulated alcohol market, ripe for dangerous illegal alcohol and counterfeiting, problems that would be poised to grow should global supplier DTC shipping come to pass.

These campaigns are often accompanied by claims that the COVID-19 crisis has made expanded supplier DTC access a necessity. But data show that alcohol suppliers – and liquor manufacturers in particular – have enjoyed record profits and growth for years. Current liquor licensing and sales regulations have not impeded the significant growth of the liquor industry, which has seen supplier gross revenues soar from $18.2 billion in 2007 to $31.2 billion in 2020 and the number of new craft distilleries in the U.S. grow to more than 2,000. That success has been possible because of the very system threatened by supplier DTC sales.

“For the past few years, traditional beverage licensees have seen an increasing push by some alcohol suppliers to subvert existing alcohol sales and distribution systems in order to move sales away from local small beverage businesses,” said John Bodnovich, Executive Director of American Beverage Licensees (ABL).

“These efforts threaten the existence of thousands of brick-and-mortar beverage retailers and the broader American alcohol ecosystem that brings choice and value to consumers.  They also jeopardize revenue to businesses and government, and compliance with state laws designed for the commerce of an age-restricted product.”

Liquor manufacturers point to the DTC market for wineries, arguing that its growth has not had a negative impact. To the contrary, what more lawmakers are finding based on reports from state alcohol regulators and other parties is that there are significant problems with illegal wine and alcohol shipping. States are grappling with waves of illegal wine shipments that have spurred at least two states – Michigan and Ohio – to invoke the 21st Amendment Enforcement Act to pursue illegal wine shippers. In Michigan in 2019, more than 2.2 million bottles of alcohol were shipped into the state and of those bottles, 734,365 were shipped illegally.

Brand-building beverage retailers appreciate the enormous responsibility that comes with safely selling and serving alcohol, and the consequences they face should they not do so. Brick-and-mortar beverage alcohol retailers in every state are subject to enforcement action on a regular basis, as well as the threat of fines, closure, and license revocation.

A Cautionary Tale

In Kentucky, following the narrow passage of a highly controversial spirits DTC bill in 2020, the playing field has been tilted significantly against beverage retailers, who are also concerned that average consumers – their customers – are losing out.

Since the law went into effect, beverage retailers in the state have seen a sharp decline in access to in-state bourbon products that their customers rightfully expect them to have in stock. Brick-and-mortar retailers in Kentucky report that the allotment for premium bourbons has decreased as much as 60% in the last year. With suppliers channeling more desirable and profitable products into their own DTC platforms, everyday liquor store customers are being left behind.

Kentucky legislation has also limited the Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s DTC enforcement powers. There remains little, if any, published proof of local taxes being collected on DTC shipments. (In Kentucky, smaller towns collect a regulatory fee to cover the town’s cost to regulate alcohol.) Since there are no carrier reporting laws in Kentucky, it remains unclear if alcohol is being shipped to dry counties and to what extent common carriers are checking IDs.

A Solution in Search of a Problem

As evidenced by the liquor industry’s phenomenal growth in recent years, which should be a benefit to all those in the industry, the lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is not that state beverage alcohol systems are broken and should be fixed by giving the largest industry firms an anticompetitive advantage through supplier DTC sales.

What the pandemic made clear is that beverage alcohol systems in the U.S. work provided there are enough products to sell, on- and off-premise retailers are allowed to keep their doors open, and enforcement of alcohol laws is applied evenly.

The growth of e-commerce has also underscored what beverage retailers have known for years: scarce enforcement resources for state alcohol beverage control agencies combined with a push by alcohol suppliers for direct-to-consumer alcohol shipping and greater saturation of points of sale is a serious threat to a competitive and safe alcohol marketplace.

“Our message to those faced with a coordinated, national liquor DTC campaign is to examine the totality of your state’s beverage alcohol marketplace and the interests of all stakeholders – including customers but also other local businesses in the beverage alcohol supply chain, revenue collectors, public health and safety officials, alcohol regulators and law enforcement,’” said Bodnovich.

“Beverage retailers who are in their stores or bars everyday continue to adapt and evolve to meet consumers where they are and will fight for a balanced alcohol marketplace that delivers the most diverse range of products; rewards those who are responsible purveyors and stewards to their local communities; and creates profitability for hundreds of thousands of licensed beverage alcohol businesses that support millions of jobs across multiple sectors of the American economy.”

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RELEASE: Beverage Licensees Urge Congress to Provide COVID-19 Relief to Hospitality Businesses

BETHESDA, MD – February 24, 2022 – American Beverage Licensees (ABL) took part today in a day of action to seek federal relief for hospitality industry business that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Nearly two years since the onset of the pandemic, many bars, taverns and independent restaurants remain underwater and are struggling to get back on their feet, pay off debt, or otherwise recover from the significant setbacks caused by the pandemic.

As Congress considers legislation to fund the government and federal programs, now is the time for lawmakers to act in support of the independent small businesses they represent and finish the work they began with the American Rescue Plan Act nearly a one year ago.

While federal legislation in March 2021 provided $28 billion in relief to the hospitality industry through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), it fell far short of meeting the need of the industry.  This was demonstrated by 278,000 applicants requesting $72 billion in aid – almost three times the funds approved by Congress.

“It may seem to some that things are returning to normal, and we’re hopeful that we’re on the right path with COVID-19, but for bars, taverns and other hospitality industry businesses the effects of the pandemic are still very real and threaten thousands of local small businesses,” said ABL Executive Director John Bodnovich.

“We recognize and appreciate the relief that was provided last year, but the job is not finished.  More can and should be done by Congress to bring back the vibrant hospitality industry that we knew before the global pandemic and save tens of thousands of small businesses.”

Pandemic mitigation efforts in states and cities have had a chilling effect on the bar and restaurant business, keeping customers aways and limiting the ability of these businesses to pay rent, afford increasingly expensive products and hire workers.  According to a National Restaurant Association survey, 52% of operators say their sales volume in October 2021 was lower than it was in October 2019.

“It’s a Hobson’s choice for many bars and restaurants,” said Bodnovich. “They can invest in their business in an environment where restrictions limit their ability to attract customers, pay the rent, or pay off debt; or they can cut menus and service to the bone and hope that customers still visit the business.  This is unsustainable for many hospitality entrepreneurs who have otherwise done their best to hold on to their livelihoods over the last two years.”

Earlier today, ABL sent a letter to members of Congress reminding it of the needs of hospitality industry constituents, and the solution that is available.  As the letter states, we “strongly urge you to support and pass legislation that would replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to meet the clearly demonstrated needs to of the hospitality businesses you represent.  Time is running short for many of these Main Street businesses, and you hold the power to save American bars and restaurants.  Please stand with these local small businesses that serve communities in every state with jobs, tax revenue and economic stimulation.”

Those who are in interested in supporting local hospitality businesses can visit the ABL website for materials or either here or here to contact members of Congress.

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RELEASE: ABL Announces 2022 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, July 10-11

BETHESDA, MD – February 16, 2022 – American Beverage Licensees (ABL) announced today that it will return to New Orleans, Louisiana for the 2022 ABL Annual Meeting on July 10-11, 2022.  The meeting will be held at the Hilton New Orleans St. Charles Avenue and will feature a range of speakers and opportunities for attendees to network with their fellow retailers and others in the beverage alcohol industry.

“After the last two years and what everyone has been through with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are thrilled to return to New Orleans to rekindle old friendships and renew the shared sense of purpose that drives hardworking, independent bar, tavern and package store owners,” said ABL Executive Director John Bodnovich.

“ABL will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this July, which will give us a chance to look back on the lessons of the past, but more importantly look forward to how beverage licensees can best shape the future of their industry.”

The meeting program will examine key issues facing independent beverage retailers including short-term and long-lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the retail alcohol market; competition issues within the alcohol industry; legal, regulatory, and legislative developments in Congress and the states; and a host of other important topics that are shaping the beverage alcohol marketplace.  Meeting attendees will be able to bring insights and information back to their states and businesses to help them build on their success.

Additional information – including registration and room rates, speakers, schedule, and hospitality events – will be announced in the coming weeks and months. For the latest updates and information on the 2022 ABL Annual Meeting, be sure to visit www.ablusa.org.

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RELEASE: Beverage Licensees’ Statement on NHTSA Report on Utah’s .05 BAC Law

February 14, 2022 – Bethesda, MD – American Beverage Licensees (ABL) issued the following statement in response to the release of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report evaluating Utah’s .05% BAC per se law:

“For decades, beverage licensees have urged adult consumers to drink responsibly and drive responsibly.  Through staff training, support of programs like SafeRide, and partnering with ride share companies, beverage retailers and other like-minded groups are part of an effort that has seen drunk driving fatalities on our nation’s roadways decrease 52% since 1982.[1]  Still, beverage licensees recognize that despite this progress, there is more work to be done to address this problem.

“It’s good news that roadways are getting safer in Utah, but the NHTSA study does not prove all the progress is due to just one law.  The study falls short of being definitive about Utah’s .05% BAC law’s role in reducing traffic fatalities as evidenced by “Figure 1. Fatalities per 100 Million VMT (FARS Data).”[2]  As the chart shows, a decline in Utah fatalities began as early as the last half of 2014, more than three years before the .05% BAC law went into effect on December 30, 2018.  The multi-year downward trend suggests that other traffic safety approaches were already in place to help make roadways safer.  It is a big leap to assume that the reductions were all due to the .05% BAC law, particularly when the study fails to breakdown how many traffic fatalities were due to alcohol.

“As legislators in other states evaluate ways to address drunk driving, they should be using complete data to make decisions.  States need to see the full picture before making decisions, which includes recognizing that Utah remains an outlier among all other states that currently maintain .08% BAC drunk driving limits.  Lawmakers and highway safety stakeholders in all but one state have identified that cutting the legal limit nearly in half is not the approach that most sensible Americans support, nor the most effective way to address long-term drunk driving problems.

“At the federal level, Congress opted against including .05% BAC language in bipartisan transportation legislation that passed in November 2021, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) has signaled that its strategy does not include lowering per se BAC laws to .05% BAC. The DOT has, however, indicated that roughly two thirds of all alcohol impaired fatalities involve high blood alcohol levels with a BAC > 0.15%.[3]

“Just as any technology for new vehicles should not function as a deterrent to reasonable adults who wish to responsibly enjoy their favorite beer, wine or cocktail at their local bar, restaurant, or neighbor’s home, states should also refrain from using incomplete data to implement laws that target today’s responsible adult consumers.”

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[1] https://www.responsibility.org/alcohol-statistics/drunk-driving-statistics/drunk-driving-fatality-statistics/

[2] https://ablusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Fig-1.-Fatalities-per-100-Million-VMT-FARS-Data.png

[3] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813120

RELEASE: Independent Alcohol Retailers React to Alcohol Industry Competition Report

February 9, 2022 – Bethesda, MD – American Beverage Licensees (ABL) Executive Director John Bodnovich issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s report on competition in the alcohol industry:

“The Treasury’s report on alcohol industry competition importantly notes ‘the intersection of the 21st Amendment and the Commerce, Contract, and Equal Protection Clauses leaves the alcohol market subject to both state and federal oversight, each with its own focus.’  The report adds that when it comes to alcohol, ‘federal regulation does not necessarily pre-empt state regulation in the same way as it does for other commodities,’ and it acknowledges that ‘the three-tier system is not a federal creation.’

Independent beverage retailers agree.

However, for the report to suggest that ‘state legislatures might consider if the benefits of the three-tier system outweigh its costs to competition and study markets without a three-tier system’ ignores the fact that states already thoroughly examine their alcohol laws on an annual basis, debating and modifying them in state legislatures to best meet the needs of public safety, consumers, businesses, and the state.  In fact, more than 2,600 alcohol bills have been passed in state legislatures since 2012.

Non-three-tier markets around the world do not offer anywhere near the variety of competition among both reliable and innovative products for consumers as U.S. state alcohol markets, nor do they provide the same level of reliability when it comes to preventing counterfeit, tainted or illegal alcohol products.

The report identifies horizontal competition issues within non-retail tiers of the industry but does not address anti-competitive policies advanced under the guise of supporting small suppliers, which can create tilted inter-tier competition for traditional retail market participants.  These efforts function as trapdoors to industry deregulation and threaten the vertical integrity of beverage alcohol markets.

With states operating under various types of three-tier systems, creating markets in which differently licensed alcohol businesses are granted the same or similar privileges, thus giving an advantage to those firms that control the product, and disadvantaging those firms that are required by law to purchase the product through a regulatory framework, is anticompetitive.

It is also troubling that when examining ‘direct-to-consumer’ shipping of alcohol, the report relies extensively on a nearly 20-year-old Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wine report that is ‘based on a study of one local market.’  Reaching conclusions on a topic as complex and nuanced as direct-to-consumer sales demands a more thorough analysis and, as the report notes, ‘is best addressed by a democratically-elected legislature.’

The report’s authors do rightly recognize a growing and challenging reality when it comes to independent beverage retailers’ ability to compete in a marketplace:

One obvious gap in the FAA Act scheme is its lack of rules for retailers. Apart from the consignment sale provisions, the prohibitions do not apply, on their face, to retailers. When a retailer proposes or requires participation in a pay-to-play scheme in violation of the rules, the Bureau may only take enforcement action against the wholesalers or producers who participate, as opposed to taking action against the retailer…The problem is made worse by the fact that many retailers appear to have considerable market power today (e.g., national grocery and restaurant chains and large event venues, in contrast to the independent local saloon discussed in the legislative history). When retailers demand sufficiently large, up-front cash payments that competitors cannot easily match, those demands have the potential to raise rivals’ costs and effectively exclude them from the market.

Beverage licensees welcome a discussion about how the TTB can ‘provide greater clarity (on) what it considers to be conduct that, by its nature, fulfills an element of a violation’ and ‘consider adding to its categorical approach by further specifying practices that threaten retailer independence, particularly focusing on practices that result in exclusion.’  Sharpening the focus of trade practice enforcement – including category management and tied-house arrangements – is warranted.

A balance of competition, regulation, innovation, and entrepreneurship has created a vibrant beverage alcohol industry with hundreds of thousands of competitors that delightfully “is somewhat unusual in the contemporary U.S. economy, in which many markets are dominated by a small number of national brands.”  Beverage retailers look forward to working with federal officials on competition issues within the beverage alcohol industry to ensure that vibrancy continues to flourish.”

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ABL Cancels 2021 Annual Meeting in New Orleans

BETHESDA, MD – August 27, 2021 – American Beverage Licensees (ABL) Executive Director John Bodnovich issued the following statement on the cancellation of the 2021 ABL Annual Meeting, scheduled for October 17-18, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana:

“After weeks of careful consideration and monitoring of the COVID-19 pandemic and surging Delta variant, ABL leadership has been forced to cancel the 2021 ABL Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The health and safety of our members and meeting attendees remains our paramount concern. The severity of the threat of the highly contagious Delta variant has compelled both the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans to require mask-wearing in stores and other indoor venues, with the city of New Orleans implementing proof of vaccination or negative COVID test requirements for nearly all hospitality activities in the city.

We know that many of you have been looking forward to this event, including enjoying the unique hospitality culture of New Orleans, and seeing your friends and colleagues in-person.  We share in your disappointment.

ABL will automatically cancel and fully refund all paid registrations in the next 10 business days.  Those who have booked hotel rooms should contact the Hilton New Orleans – St. Charles Ave to cancel room reservations.

We thank you for your understanding and support as we all continue to navigate these challenging times.  When confirmed, ABL will formally announce information about the next ABL Annual Meeting.”

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Bars & Taverns Face Long Road Back from Pandemic Damage

During National Tavern Month This May: Support Your Local Bars & Taverns

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                             

May 7, 2021      

BETHESDA, MD — After more than a year of shutdowns, layoffs and unprecedented challenges, America’s bars and taverns are starting to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.  But despite recent improvements, these small businesses still face a long road back to recovery.

This May, in the spirit of National Tavern Month, American Beverage Licensees (ABL) and its members are calling on everyone to do their part to help local bars and taverns get back in the business of serving their communities.

“It’s understandable that we all want to move forward and put the last year behind us,” said ABL Executive Director John Bodnovich.  “But in doing so, we must keep in mind that many local bars and taverns remain in need of relief and support as they look to re-hire, re-supply, re-train and re-open at sustainable business levels.”

From March 2020 through March 2021, bar and restaurant sales of beer, wine and spirits declined by $90 billion.  This amounts to a loss of 8.3 billion 12-ounce servings of beer; 4.0 billion 5-ounce glasses of wine; and 10.9 billion 1.5-ounce spirits cocktails.  These staggering losses were accompanied by the loss of over 1.1 million on-premise jobs and more than $29 billion in lost wages for bar and restaurant workers.  (Source: John Dunham & Associates. American Beverage Licensees COVID-19 Impact Model.)

“We’re asking everyone – from the White House to our friends, family and neighbors – to lend a hand in supporting America’s Main Street hospitality businesses,” said Bodnovich.  “Everyone can do their part – in big ways and small – to help these ‘friendliest places in town’ get back to what they do best: providing jobs and offering a ‘third place’ for people to gather and share their favorite beverages and conversation.”

“We may have been physically distant for much of the past year, but if we’ve learned anything from this terrible pandemic, it’s that the need to be socially connected remains as important as ever.”

There are many ways in which to support local bars and taverns now and as the country emerges economically and socially from the COVID-19 crisis:

 

  • White House – Federal government agencies like the Small Business Administration (SBA) are working with bars and taverns to make sure they can access grant funds, loans and other small business relief measures. Others, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are tasked with helping businesses know how to reopen responsibly.  By streamlining loan and grant processes for busy bar and tavern owners, and by providing clear guidelines to businesses and the public, the Administration can help businesses get moving again and build consumer confidence in safely visiting their favorite bar or tavern.

 

  • Congress – Thanks to programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), Congress has given many bar and tavern businesses a fighting chance to continue to serve as job providers and engines in the service economy. But the work is not finished.  By passing the RESTAURANTS Act (H.R. 793; S. 255) and the Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act (H.R. 1346; S. 477), Congress can help bars and taverns with grants and tax credits to get back to stability and running their businesses.

 

  • State Governments – Bar and tavern groups have worked with their governors, legislators, and regulators to navigate regulatory and policy paths to survive during the pandemic. These relationships and communications need to remain robust to ensure that public officials fully understand the hospitality industry, the professionalism of its practitioners, and how best to help it thrive.

 

  • Industry – While others in the beverage alcohol industry were able to pivot their business approaches during the pandemic, bars and taverns had limited options to change their business models. Now with reopening, on-premise businesses are eager to see product availability and a level of account service from their wholesaler and supplier partners that will help them promote and provide trusted and new products to consumers, benefitting the entire industry.

 

  • Guests – Like a professional athlete making a comeback, getting back to “normal” may take some time as bars and taverns re-open under different public health guidelines and operating procedures. Keep in mind that a little bit of patience and empathy for local small businesses as they manage these transitions goes a long way.

 

This May, join ABL and state associations representing bars and taverns in supporting Main Street businesses as they fight to keep serving their communities.  With the help of their customers, communities, industry and elected leaders, local bars and taverns will overcome the challenges of COVID-19 and continue the great American traditions of conviviality and hospitality at what remains the Friendliest Place in Town, your local tavern.

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ABL Statement on President-elect Biden’s Coronavirus Economic Plan

January 15, 2021

BETHESDA, MD – American Beverage Licensees (ABL) Executive Director John Bodnovich issued the following statement regarding President-elect Joe Biden’s announced coronavirus economic plan:

“We are encouraged that President-elect Biden understands the need for more federal support of Main Street hospitality businesses and is willing to work with legislators in Congress to bring relief to those that have been among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Bars, taverns and restaurants have persevered through closures and operating restrictions, investing in new public health precautions to operate safely; adapting their businesses to new market dynamics to meet customers’ needs; and scraping to keep their employees on the payroll.  Now, as they are shouldering significant debt and with closures persisting during winter months, a reckoning is coming for many of these small business owners.

“Despite gains on Wall Street and in other sectors, in December employment in bars and restaurants declined by 372,000 jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This sharp loss demonstrates that hospitality businesses remain in danger.  Local bars and restaurants require targeted aid if they are to get back on their feet and survive.

“Whether through legislation like the RESTAURANTS Act or another measure that directly addresses the challenges bars and restaurants face, Congress has the opportunity to move the hospitality industry closer to the economic recovery that is projected in President-elect Biden’s plan.

“Beverage licensees are eager to work with President-Elect Biden’s Administration and Congress to save America’s bars and restaurants.  Investing in the survival of bars and restaurants will help invigorate the Main Street economies that states, cities and towns rely on for their own economic well-being, and assist communities in helping build back the hospitality industry better than ever before.”

ABL Welcomes Passage of COVID-19 Package; Relief Still Needed for Bars, Taverns

December 22, 2020 – BETHESDA, MD – Beer, wine and spirits licensees – especially on-premise bars, taverns and restaurants – welcomed the long overdue COVID-19 relief package that Congress passed on Monday, which will finally deliver some aid to local bars and taverns struggling to keep their doors open ten months into the coronavirus pandemic.  Additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding, expansion of the employee retention tax credit as well as the business meal tax deduction, and money to help struggling independent music venues will provide some relief to a slice of the hospitality industry.

However, by omitting the RESTAURANTS Act from the legislation, this relief package falls short, and does not provide the support needed to help save Main Street bars, taverns and restaurants that have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic.

“Every bit of aid helps, but let’s be clear: this is not nearly enough to save America’s bars and taverns as we know them,” said American Beverage Licensees (ABL) Executive Director John Bodnovich.  “Just as it did for the automobile industry during the Great Recession, Congress had the chance to provide a devastated industry a lifeline by passing the RESTAURANTS Act.  Sadly, many local bars and taverns are now all but guaranteed to shutter their businesses, lay off their employees and leave a hole in their communities.”

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, bar and tavern shutdowns and operating restrictions are increasing, causing more of these local businesses to close their doors for good. Despite rising stock market indexes, the modest economic rebound experienced in recent months has been uneven across industries and not reflective of the state of the bar and restaurant business.

From March through December 2020, bar and restaurant sales of beer wine and spirits are expected to decline by $74 billion.  This amounts to a loss of 52.7 million 12-ounce servings of beer; 3.3 billion 5-ounce glasses of wine; and 8.8 billion 1.5-ounce spirits cocktails.  These staggering losses in beverage alcohol sales are accompanied by the loss of over 909,000 on-premise jobs and more than $24 billion in lost wages for bar and restaurant workers.[1]

“While not deemed ‘essential services’, bars and taverns are unquestionably essential for the millions of people they employ.  We need them to be able to keep their doors open so they can lead what we hope is a strong economic recovery from the pandemic,” said Bodnovich.

Faced with a patchwork of closure orders and operating restrictions, bars, taverns and restaurants have taken unprecedented measures and spent thousands of dollars to makes sure they are keeping their customers and employees safe.  Yet despite these diligent, good faith investments, many bar owners feel unfairly targeted and scapegoated by state and local governments that have failed to provide contact tracing evidence that shows that closing bars and restaurants is an effective means of COVID mitigation – especially when the alternative has often become large private parties and gatherings where no prevention measures or public safety regulations are enforced.

“While this relief package did not go far enough to adequately address COVID-19’s impact on the hospitality industry, bar and tavern owners will look to build on this step and continue to work with members of Congress, the White House and other hospitality industry groups to secure the pandemic relief that is needed to save America’s bar and tavern businesses,” said Bodnovich.

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[1] John Dunham & Associates. American Beverage Licensees COVID-19 Impact Model. New York, September 2020.

Package Liquor Stores Are Safely Serving Their Communities During COVID-19

Holiday Week Highlights Package Liquor Store Month this November 

 

November 24, 2020 – BETHESDA, MD – As Americans find safe ways to “gather”, give thanks and kick-off the holiday season this week, American Beverage Licensees (ABL) is reminding everyone that America’s package liquor stores are doing their part to safely and responsibly serve their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

November is Package Liquor Store Month, and this week presents consumers with an opportunity to visit their local beer, wine and spirits shop to find drinks to pair with their favorite Thanksgiving foods.  The holiday week also includes “Black Friday”, when many shoppers traditionally head out to purchase beverage gifts for their friends and families, as well as “Small Business Saturday”, when many will make a point to support beverage merchants by shopping local.

 

Package stores, which traditionally sell beer, wine and spirits and, in some cases, food items and other goods, have been deemed “essential businesses” by governments in nearly every state during the COVID-19 pandemic.  With an essential designation has come the responsibility of following enhanced public safety guidelines to make sure their employees and customers can safely shop for their favorite brands.

 

‘New Normal’ Means Adapting to a Changed Marketplace

 

The holiday season is the busiest time of the year for package liquors stores, but for many it will be a continuation of a busy year thanks to a shift in beer, wine and spirits consumption from on-premise occasions to adults enjoying beverages at home.  Managing increases in customer counts – and changes to how consumers purchase beverage alcohol – have required agility and flexibility from what are otherwise strictly regulated businesses.  State regulatory changes that have expanded – and in some states required – curbside sales, or in other states permitted local delivery, mean that liquor stores have had to invest in these labor-intensive operations to safely serve shoppers.

 

Package liquor stores are also adapting to the growth of e-commerce, with many improving their digital point-of-sales platforms and increasing their online presence for those customers who choose to shop online.  By creating a more robust online presence, traditional beverage retailers are doing virtually what they have always done in their stores: introducing consumers to a vast assortment of trusted brands and new and exciting products.  Package stores carry a wide selection of products – local, national and imported – and as dedicated beverage alcohol experts provide a level of service and information about products that makes a trip to the local package liquor store something to look forward to.

 

Public Safety Emphasis Not New for Liquor Stores

 

Liquor store owners and operators have always been committed to responsibility by training employees to comply with state laws, verifying shoppers’ ages by checking identification, and working with elected officials, regulators, law enforcement and other community leaders to make sure they are doing their part to keep alcohol out of underage hands.  They know that no sale is worth risking their standing in their community.

 

Now, another leg has been added to the responsibility stool as beverage retailers are charged with keeping their staff and customers safe from a deadly virus.  By and large, America’s beverage retailers have answered the call.

 

Many individual off-premise beverage licensees have spent tens of thousands of dollars to regularly clean their stores, provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff, offer hand sanitizer and masks to customers, and change their business models to accommodate the concerns and wishes of their guests.  Whether re-routing aisles in their stores, hiring greeters to monitor store capacity, or working with their team members to make sure they feel protected, “safe is the new normal” for package liquor stores.

 

Package store owners have also been thrust into the politics of mask-wearing, with some facing physical attacks on their staff by customers who disagree with their store policies.  Retailers have adopted firm policies for mask-wearing and age verification to make sure they are following state COVID guidelines, treat guests fairly and equally, and protect their frontline employees from the coronavirus and physical harm.

 

Advocating for the Best Alcohol Marketplace in the World

 

Since the onset of the pandemic, package stores and their state associations have been working with governors’ offices and state regulators to allow hospitality businesses to continue to serve their communities.  Through ABL and directly, they have been advocating for federal relief for local small businesses and their employees, including for their bar and tavern colleagues who have born the brunt of the pandemic’s economic devastation.  At stake is a retail beverage alcohol industry that includes hundreds of thousands of businesses, over 2 million jobs, $122 billion in economic activity and $27 billion in taxes.

 

American package stores provide a greater selection of beer, wine and spirits than any other country in the world while fostering innovation, competition and responsibility.  They operate day-in and day-out in an orderly, state-regulated alcohol system that has successfully balanced access with accountability, product choice with product safety, and customer service with community awareness.

 

As we give thanks this week, ABL encourages everyone to take a moment to recognize their local wine shops, liquor stores, beer stores and package stores, whose owners, operators and staff turn the key to open and close their Main Street essential businesses every day.

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ABL Elects Officers for 2020-2022

July 30, 2020

BETHESDA, MD – American Beverage Licensees (ABL) elected officers to two-year terms at the association’s 18th Annual Meeting in July.  Officers elected were Mat Dinsmore of Wilbur’s Total Beverage in Fort Collins, Colorado, Treasurer; Juan Negrin of Super Wine Warehouse in Paterson, New Jersey, Vice President Off-Premise; Jay Gesner of Souse’s Lounge in Rockford, Illinois, Vice President On-Premise; and Terry Harvath of Wishing Well Bar & Grill in Appleton, Wisconsin, At-Large Representative.

“The newly-elected officers provide a diverse set of beverage alcohol retail experience, with perspectives of on- and off-premise independent operators,” said J.J. Moran, ABL President and owner of the Four Winds Liquor & Lounge in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  “Mat, Juan, Jay and Terry are long-serving volunteer leaders of the ABL Board of Directors and their state associations, and I am grateful that I’ll have their wisdom and guidance on the ABL Executive Committee.”

In addition to Moran, the new officers will join the ABL Executive Committee with Bobby Greenawalt of B&B Bartending in Auburn, Alabama, Vice President On-Premise; Chris Marsicano of The Village Supper Club in Delavan, Wisconsin, Vice President On-Premise; Warren Scheidt of The Cork in Columbus, Indiana, At-Large Representative; and Steve Morris of Jorgenson’s Restaurant & Lounge in Helena, Montana, Past-President.  John Bodnovich is Executive Director of ABL.

ABL advocates for public policy on behalf of its 13,000 bar, tavern and package members in 28 states, working in Washington, DC and supporting its state retail alcohol association affiliates with information and relationships with retail licensees and across the broader alcohol and hospitality industry.  ABL is led by an active board of directors representing ABL’s state affiliates.  The board annually elects four officers to two-year terms, wherein they join current ABL officers in leading the association toward meeting its strategic goals.

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