OCEAN CITY — With some of the last vestiges of the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) set to go quietly in a matter of a couple weeks, resort officials last week said they were happy to see the beleaguered agency finally shuttered after decades of controversy.
The DLC was created in 2014 after the often-controversial Liquor Control Board (LCB) was dissolved. In the years since, the county-run DLC has operated several retail stores throughout Worcester along with a wholesale operation for the several hundred licensees. However, the stiff competition from private-sector wholesalers along with a stream of red ink totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars led the County Commissioners last year to devise an exit strategy for getting out of the liquor business.
The plan included abandoning the wholesale operation in 2016 and closing the various retail stores around the county sometime in 2017. During his quarterly report to the Mayor and Council last Monday, County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, who represents Ocean City, said the last two county retail stores in the resort would be closing their doors by the end of the year.
“The Department of Liquor Control has the two Ocean City stores under contract,” he said. “The Gold Coast Beer and Wine is going to take over that store and a gentleman has a contract for the south store at 16th Street.”
Mitrecic said the two stores would soon be turned over to private sector interests that will take them over.
“Both stores will be closed right after the first of the year,” he said. “The county will go in and do inventory and then they’ll be transferred to the new owners.”
In the meantime, Mitrecic said the county-run retail outlets were aggressively attempting to liquidate as much of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory as possible in advance of the transfer to new owners.
“If you haven’t been to the stores lately, there’s a huge, huge sale going on,” he said. “Some of this inventory they’re practically giving away just to get rid of it.”
The LCB, and later the DLC, have been fiercely debated for decades as the county has struggled to make the quasi-government agency work. However, it has often been mired in controversy and red ink. After Mitrecic’s update, Mayor Rick Meehan said he was pleased to see the last vestiges of the DLC in Ocean City going away.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “We started these conversations over 25 years ago on the county liquor board and dispensary system and I’m glad to see it coming to an end. Some of the things I’ve watched and heard about with regards to the liquor stores and dispensary system show just how dire the situation was the county was left in.”
Meehan suggested the deeply-discounted retail liquor stores in the waning days of their existence in Ocean City could be having unintended side effects in the community.
“We’re watching as the county tries to purge themselves of the inventory with prices that can really be a detriment to our community in some ways,” he said. “From what I understand, some of the prices are really encouraging some of those that are less fortunate to be in there buying liquor rather than abstaining and I think that’s unfortunate. That’s really the result of the position the county got put in.”
Meehan expects the private sector retail outlets to thrive once they take over the county-run stores.
“The Ocean City stores will be out of business in about two weeks,” he said. “That’s probably good news for us. We always look forward to private enterprise and small businesses we encourage in Worcester.”