NBC 12 Investigation: The Look of Private Liquor Sales

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

LEXINGTON, KY (WWBT) - It's a political cocktail found only on paper. The McDonnell administration is still writing a plan to sell, or privatize, Virginia's liquor monopoly. We wanted to know what might happen if, one day, there is no more ABC.

So, we hit the road: A 500 mile trip from Richmond, to Lexington, KY, where, unlike Virginia, the government does not control liquor sales.

Rising high above the bluegrass fields of Kentucky, is the "Horse Capital of the World". Lexington is a city of approximately 270,000 people who take pride in their world-class thoroughbreds and the natural beauty of their town.

But -like all cities- there are places the local tour guides don't want you to see. Such as, the street heading into town dotted with strip clubs and private liquor stores.

Tracy Parker is a Lexington local, who walked us around the neighborhood where she grew up.

ANDY: "Is this area, right now, the type of place where people feel safe walking around at night?"
TRACY: "No, probably not."

In Lexington, private liquor is not a political issue. It's just the way things are. And that means sellers, can get creative.

ANDY: "So you could drive your vehicle up and get a bottle of liquor?"
TRACY: "Oh yeah, look, right here's a drive-thru window! Lots of 'em have that."

This particular drive-in liquor shop is out of business, but elsewhere private stores are doing well. They're found in what might appear -to Virginians- as unusual places.

TRACY: "See, [it says] pharmacy, liquor department, one hour photo."
ANDY: "In a Rite-Aid, in a pharmacy, virtually, you'll find...liquor departments?"
TRACY: "Yes. Liquor, yes, bourbon, rum, vodka."

Whereas in Virginia, no two ABC stores are found within walking distance, Tracy showed us that, in Lexington, you can find the occasional example of neighborhood competition.

TRACY: "Right here in one little corner we've got 1, 2, 3, 4 places that sell alcohol."

So that's where our travels took us next.

Let there be no mistaking what they sell at the corner store that belongs to James Maxberry.

JAMES [Pointing at liquor bottles from behind a steel cage]: "What you see here. That's my most popular ITEMS!

For 20 years, he's been serving bottles of liquor to customers who know just what they're looking for. Maxberry is popular on the outskirts of Lexington, where the government leaves liquor sales, to private businesses.

That's concerning to natives like Parker, who see the stores popping up just about anywhere.

"It's been this way so long that nobody sees it as an issue anymore. This is just the way it is," Parker said.

Indeed, liquor does rather well in Lexington. It's sold in grocery markets, pharmacies, or big box destinations. One such chain is called Liquor Barn. Stores must get a license from the police, whose enforcement agents work undercover.

"Some would argue that the more alcohol that's in an area, the more problems you're gonna have with intoxicated persons and they're easily victimized as far as robbery and assaults. And that may be true. But again, I think the licensing process keeps that at a minimum," said an undercover enforcement agent with Lexington Police.

Lexington is a vibrant city, rising high above the bluegrass horse country. Whether Kentucky's liquor policy represents the future of Virginia, remains a "spirited" debate.

ANDY: "Why do you like it [owning the shop] so much?"
JAMES: "I don't like it. (Laughter). I don't like it. It makes a living."
Added Parker, "It is a beautiful town with beautiful people. But, it also is a town that has a problem."

In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell's plan would triple the amount of places you can buy spirits in the Commonwealth and generate half a billion dollars for transportation work. As of last month, the McDonnell team did not have enough votes to privatize ABC. The plan is being revised ahead of next year's General Assembly session.

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