Virginia ABC planning to roll out home liquor delivery

Virginia ABC planning to roll out home liquor delivery
A display of Virginia-made liquors at a Richmond ABC store. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

At some point in the near future, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority is hoping to execute the first home liquor delivery in its 86-year history.

Just like other retailers adapting to the coronavirus pandemic, the state-run liquor monopoly has been exploring options to get its products to customers with minimal human-to-human contact.

It started with curbside pickup, a service now available at most of the agency’s 388 stores. And if all goes according to plan, next-day delivery is on the way later this year.

The agency is in the final stages of developing a pilot delivery program that will be launched through an ABC store in Suffolk. The pilot was scheduled to begin Thursday afternoon, but officials were still working through some technical issues Thursday evening.

The test – which will begin with a soft launch before an official announcement – will cover a 25-mile radius around the ABC store at the Bennett’s Creek Crossing Shopping Center.

Travis Hill, ABC’s chief executive officer, said the limited trial run will help the agency fine-tune the system so it’s not overwhelmed in the rollout to the wider drinking public.

“We have to make sure that we don’t create a scenario where we’re just completely snowed under by folks who are used to ordering from Amazon. We’re not there yet,” Hill told members of ABC Board during a virtual meeting Thursday. “But I think we have really shown the strength of our retail team, our development team working together to get that solution going forward.”

To get through the crisis, ABC has already allowed licensees to deliver wine and beer. Restaurants are also allowed to offer to-go cocktails.

The agency’s goal is to get liquor deliveries going in populous areas that have been most impacted by the pandemic, where people may still be avoiding trips to brick-and-mortar stores for fear of the virus.

If the two-week pilot goes well, Hill said in an interview, the more high-demand regions of Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads could see a home delivery option “in the next few months.” Other areas could follow after that.

“We have to make sure that it works,” Hill said.

Technically, ABC’s upcoming liquor deliveries won’t be the state’s first.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.