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Last week, Jefferson County Delegate Wayne Clark took a stand for local businesses when he voiced support for House Bill 2025, a bill that will greatly update how our state’s alcohol beverage control board operates.

Clark deserves a lot of credit for this. It shows that he understands the problems that our local business owners are encountering while trying to compete with counties in neighboring states. Clark has the perspective of a small business owner himself, as the owner and operator of the Locust Hill Golf Course in Charles Town.

Alcohol laws are killing businesses in the Eastern Panhandle.

In 2018 alone, Jefferson County saw two businesses adversely affected by antiquated alcohol laws.

The first was the Sweetshine Distillery right outside of Charles Town. This operation made some of the finest high-end liqueurs you could find anywhere. And, at least in my eyes, it appears that the state did everything it could to put these people out of business.

In a published report prior to the closing of the establishment’s tasting room, the owners said that they had to sell everything to the state and then buy it back at a markup before they could sell it to the public.

I’m sure there were other problems, but that was one of the biggest sticking points that I noticed. You have to figure that company’s cash flow was being tied up every month dealing with that nonsense.

And when your money is tied up like that, how do you cover expenses or make payroll? How do you think about growth? Survival alone had to have been a struggle.

Clark pointed out that in just neighboring Loudoun County alone, there are roughly 40 craft breweries, wineries and distilleries and that there are only 29 in the whole state of West Virginia.

By looking at what happened to Sweetshine, I think we know why there is such a disparity.

And, let’s not forget about what happened that same year with Tanglefoot, the brainchild of Tarver King, a celebrity chef with a huge following who wanted to open a restaurant in Charles Washington Hall.

In all fairness, there were electrical issues that needed to be worked out. But it didn’t help that all these problems were exacerbated by the ABC board requiring that additional walls be built and that children not be allowed inside.

There’s absolutely no way that a chef of King’s reputation was going to open a high-end restaurant without an ABC license.

But, there was the state of West Virginia and its Prohibition-style alcohol laws standing in the way of jobs and prosperity, once again.

This was a restaurant that could have drawn countless food tourists to Charles Town.

And there are probably many other stories like these two out there floating around in Jefferson County and the Eastern Panhandle that haven’t been publicized.

HB 2025 came about after the state loosened alcohol laws and allowed alcoholic beverages to be served alongside takeout orders. The changes seem to have worked pretty well.

Clark lobbied for the alcohol laws that have been loosened due to COVID-19 to remain loosened. He said in a statement, “Why not keep the government out of the way permanently by allowing these businesses to continue their alcohol take out, and allow alcohol delivery service and allow for craft bartenders to bottle their customers favorite cocktails to take home?”

Clark has a point.

The world didn’t end when the alcohol restrictions eased during the pandemic. Society didn’t crumble before our very eyes.

There are many aspects to this bill. And I’m not saying that I understand every single one of them. But this bill is definitely a step forward. Anyone who helps it move forward, deserves a word of thanks.

Do you know that this bill allows an apple farmer to now make hard cider with his apples and sell it?

It’s hard to believe that this wasn’t already the case.

Could this bill have saved Sweetshine Distillery and Tanglefoot? Quite possibly.

It’s hard to say that the alcohol laws were 100 percent of the problem in both instances. But I would feel confident in saying that they were at least half of the problem.

And that’s way too much of a problem in the first place.


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