Washington DC’s local NBC affiliate reported earlier this week that Virginia is considering ending its near-century monopoly on liquor sales. This simple news story on the commonwealth’s proposal got me thinking – how do the various liquor laws of Maryland, Virginia, and DC impact my drinking habits? How do competing costs and convenience in each of these three jurisdictions factor into where I purchase my beer, wine, and spirits?
While I live in DC, I grudgingly visit the suburbs for one reason or another nearly every week or weekend. And stopping to re-stock the bar or fridge is an excellent diversion during ordinary errands. Virginia and DC both have beer and wine easily available at any grocery store. In DC, private liquor stores sell beer and wine as well as spirits, but are not open on Sundays. Back across the river in Virginia, liquor stores are open seven days a week and all revenue is collected by the commonwealth. Maryland – the Free State – is the most complicated because each county creates its own liquor control laws. In Montgomery County, off of DC’s northwest quadrant, the municipality controls liquor sales and severely restricts the sales of beer and wine to stores selling only those products; no alcoholic beverages of any kind are available for purchase in grocery stores. This makes a quick purchase at a corner market impossible, creating a real inconvenience for those that loathe running errands, like I do.
DC is clearly the most convenient for me, both because of my location and the lenience of its laws, yet it is often the most expensive; downtown shops can insist that customers pay a premium for their ease of purchase, as so many commuters choose to make a quick stop before returning home. While I am willing to pay a slight premium for convenience, in reality, I have found that a decent bottle of scotch can cost a staggering $10 to $20 more in DC as compared to Virginia, a difference that could go towards the purchase of another bottle.
With any luck, competition will further decrease the already relatively low prices if Virginia’s legislature permits the proposed privatization. And while it might be a stretch, I can hope that the competition will spill over into the District and bring down prices here a bit as well. Because let’s face it: a quick early evening walk to the neighborhood store, even in winter, is far preferable than sitting in traffic and wishing I were home.