Retailers endorse ABC privatization with modification

Published 8:13 am Wednesday, October 20, 2010

by Susan Milhoan

As the representative of more than 3,000 Virginia-based, independent retailers, the Virginia Retail Federation has voted to endorse the principle of privatizing the sale of distilled spirits in the Commonwealth.

The association will work closely with Gov. Bob McDonnell’s staff and General Assembly to modify the bill that is likely to be presented in the upcoming months.

The association supports the principle of privatization if the transition process is open to the public for input, if it is accomplished with due consideration for merchants of all sizes, and if approved through the legislative process with proper regulatory controls.

Specifically, the retailers seek the following modifications prior to supporting any legislation:

• Increase number of available licenses

• Significantly increase licenses for small, independent retailers

• Reduce minimum starting bid for tier-four licenses to $25,000, paid over an extended period of time

• Modify tier-four requirements to include merchants with less than 3,000 square feet or fewer than 50 employees

• Early auction and distribution of tier-four licenses for beta testing

Because there are many more independent merchants in Virginia than there are national retail chains, we believe that the number of tier-four licenses must be far greater than those granted to national competitors. We have committed to the governor’s office that we will work closely with the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission and suggest a thorough market analysis to determine what that number should be.

“There are currently more than 6,600 businesses in Virginia licensed to sell beer and wine off-premises,” said Retail Merchants Association President and CEO Nancy Thomas. “Restricting the sale of distilled spirits to such as small percentage of these businesses creates a serious competitive imbalance. The VRF was founded in order to provide a balanced voice for all retailers in the Commonwealth, both large and small. For that reason, we will move very deliberately and cautiously when considering legislation of this magnitude and consequence.”

The Virginia Retail Federation is the advocacy arm of the Retail Alliance and the Retail Merchants Association. The association’s mission is to advocate on behalf of local and regional independent retailers, as well as franchise and national retailers through a network of locally focused representatives and chapters that access grass-root retail communities throughout Virginia.

SUSAN MILHOAN is president and chief executive officer of Norfolk-based Retail Alliance, a position she has held since February 2007. Previously she was president of the Jackson (Mich.) Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Jackson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, where she created four downtown festivals and was actively involved in economic and community development. Milhoan has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of North Florida.