Worcester Eyes Liquor Discounts To Clear Inventory

Chris Shearer

Contributing Writer

SNOW HILL —   Faced with millions in surplus liquor inventory and a resigning department head, the County Commissioners made moves that indicate that they believe it’s time to start bringing out the bargains.

Worcester County is accelerating its exit from the liquor market by discounting the prices of portions of the county’s inventory that aren’t moving as quickly as the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) would like.

On Tuesday, the Worcester County Commission passed a resolution allowing the mark down of thousands of 750 ml and 1.75 liter bottles of slow or non-moving items. Discounts aren’t fixed however, with rates varying between 5% and 45%. In his memo to county Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins, former DLC Director Robert Cowger Jr, who resigned on April 1, wrote: “These products have become non-moving and lowering the pricing for the upcoming tourist season will enable the department to deplete the excess inventory at a minimal loss to the county.”

Exiting the liquor market has been a long and rocky road for the county as recent months have seen the resignation of Cowger and competing versions of Maryland House and Senate bills looking to open up the regional liquor market to private wholesale companies.

Proposed in its current form in December, county officials have been discussing the exit plan for the DLC since its monopoly on the local liquor market ended in 2014. The county’s exit is in spite of the fact that the elimination of the Worcester County Department of Liquor Control could cost the county as much as $2.3 million.

Cowger said last month that the department would never make a profit again, and that it wasn’t able to compete with the larger companies now in business.

Cowger also proposed a more gradual end for the department, phasing the DLC out of the market over three years to limit the financial hit that Worcester County taxpayers would take as a result. The county commissioners however, had agreed last year that liquidating the department entirely, ending wholesale operations in the fall of 2016, and wrapping up retail sales by summer 2017 was the best way to handle the department’s mounting losses.

The county’s exit plan is what led to the resignation of Cowger, a former Pocomoke county commissioner who plans to run for the seat in 2018.