There were spirits, spirits everywhere and just a drop to drink for the handful of local legislators and press persons who toured the Montgomery County liquor warehouse last week.
Billed as a "rap and unwrap" of the county's package operation, the tour took participants through the Department of Liquor Control's new office and warehouse at 16650 Crabbs Branch Way on the edge of Rockville in the County Service Park.
State delegates Ida Ruben and Frank Shore were among those who toured the facility, which houses a $6.2 million inventory of liquor, wine and beer, and sampled the DLC's fastest moving item, Almaden Mountain White Chablis. The spirits are housed in the 165,000-square-foot warehouse, which was completed in 1976 at a cost of $3.5 million.
Montgomery is the only county in the nation that operates its own liquor monopoly, buying directly from distillers and brewers and operating liquor retail stores. This unusual system arouses a great deal of curiosity, according to DLC director Alex Wernick.
"To a lot of people alcoholic beverages are a very emotional issue," Wernick said. "We've never had an open house like this before, and we wanted to take some of the mystery out of our operation."
A prominently placed sign informs persons approaching the warehouse that beer is to the right and liquor and wine are to the left. Strict security measures, including employe identification cards, an eight-foot high chain-link fence around the loading dock and a soon to be completed computerized electronic gate system guard against pilferage - which was a problem at the county's old Silver Spring warehouse.
The warehouse serves the county's 22 dispensaries and approximately 480 licensees. One-day licenses are provided for such special events as picnics and dances. DLC's Stores Division manages and operates the dispensaries, the only retail outlets for hard liquor in the county.
About 60 percent of the warehouse space is devoted to liquor and wine with the rest housing beer.
Each product is assigned a number, from 101 to 9,999, depending on its popularity. Almaden Mountain White Chablis currently is 101, with Allen's Sombrero Coffee Liquer taking last place. More than 5,000 items not stocked can be ordered from a special purchase list.
"Wine is edging out whiskey in popularity," according to warehouse and delivery chief Emerson Moreland. "Roughly 52 percent of liquor and wine section sales are whiskey, with 48 percent wine, and wine demand seems to be on the increase."
Beer accounts for a little less than half the warehouse sales, with the Anhauser Busch line currently top in popularity. An inventory of 300,000 cases, representing 100 different brands and 300 different packaging configurations, turns over about every three weeks.
Last year the warehouse shipped 767,965 cases of liquor and wine, 63,333 kegs and 3,202,189 cases of beer, and 124,270 cases of special-order merchandise.
For the 1977 fiscal year, net sales totalled $48.8 million with a net operating profit of $4.5 million. Projected sales for the 1978 fiscal year are estimated at almost $54 million. Profits go in the county general fund.
DLC has 269 full-time workers and 60 part-time employes. Retail store employes regularly attend DLC product training sessions, to familiarize themselves with new products available.
"Our goal is to provide a service and to make a profit for the county," director Wernick said. "We're not the only game in town - we're surrounded by Prince George's County and the District - so we want our employes to be very service conscious."
While Wernick admitted that controlled liquor has a reputation for higher prices, he contends that Montgomery's liquor prices are competitive with those of the surrounding areas. To attract as buyers the large number of county residents who work in the District, DLC offers six or seven items discount-priced as weekend specials - a marketing technique that has proven immensely popular and profitable, according to Wernick.
"When we started offering these specials last November the per capita consumption of liquor was 1.5 gallons," he said. "Now it's raised to 1.7 gallons, which tells me one thing. People aren't drinking more, they're coming back into the county to purchase liquor."