Mobile ordering and paying for retail purchases of beer, wine and liquor hasn’t really hit Harford County, according to local alcoholic beverage regulators and dealers, but it’s likely coming.
Not before current regulations are modified, however, because right now it’s difficult, if not illegal, to make such purchases, which also means changes in state laws may be needed.
The mobile buying, paying and delivery took up a significant chunk of the five-member Liquor Control Board’s almost two-hour work session Sept. 19 in Bel Air, where the board looked over its rules and regulations to determine if changes are needed for compliance with state law or to better reflect what is going on in the marketplace.
Other than the board members and their staff, only a few people attended the session, among them Joseph Snee, a Bel Air lawyer who represents a number of alcoholic beverage licensees; Dan Hull, general manager of Beards Hill Liquors in Aberdeen, and a reporter from The Aegis.
Right now, it’s difficult for residents of Harford County to call up a local retailer and place an order over the phone and receive a delivery at their home, liquor board staff members explained.
The retailer has to have a letter of authorization from the liquor board to deliver, but in order for an actual delivery to be made, the customer has to go to the retailer’s place of business and pay in person.
The latter requirement is limiting from the customer’s standpoint, board staff said, while the volume of purchases is limiting from the customer’s standpoint, according to Hull.
One-day event licenses to serve alcohol at a fundraiser for a family with young children whose mother and father are battling cancer and for a gala Bel Air High School reunion were recently approved by the Harford County Liquor Control Board.
Beards Hill has a delivery letter but only handles large orders, Hull said, and even then such transactions have the potential for problems. The rules require that the person making the delivery be 21 or older and that the delivery “is received and signed for by a person 21 years of age or older (proper identification must be provided.)”
Hull urged the board to strengthen its regulations regarding training requirements for people making deliveries, because “we don’t want to contribute to underage sales.”
Hull also said the board should address the issue of third party ordering, such as with a phone app where a pickup and point-of-sale is made by the outfit doing the delivery, not the retailer supplying the product.
Third party purchases are not permitted in Harford by local rule or statute – all liquor laws in Maryland are passed through the General Assembly.
“It’s all new technology,” said C. John Sullivan Jr., the liquor board chairman, who also mentioned how computers can be used for live pricing when orders are made.
“Nobody in the county is doing third-party sales,” said Hull, who mentioned an app called Drizly, an e-commerce platform he likened to “Uber for booze.”
Drizly, which bills itself as “your online liquor store,” handles pricing, purchase and delivery and operates in 110 markets in the U.S. and Canada, according to its website, including in Baltimore and Towson. The website also lists Annapolis as a third Maryland market, but a user cannot live click on “Annapolis” to order.
A proposed change in board rules suggested by staff would allow a person making an order from a retailer to avoid having to pay in person at the retailer by permitting “orders by mail, telephone or messenger; the filing of orders by delivery; the payment for orders at the place of delivery.”
That change and several others discussed at the work session will be considered and voted upon by the board at a later date, according to Judith Powell, board special projects coordinator.
Other changes reviewed
Another potential change reviewed would add clarification to cover charges to state “an admission fee may only be charged to patrons who attend the entertainment event,” and also stipulating that holders of a restaurant license must notify the board in advance if the establishment is to be closed for a private event.
Board Administrator Pilar Gracia said the existing rule is “muddy” as to who would be charged in instances where a restaurant might be offering live entertainment but patrons go to eat and aren’t seated where the entertainment is taking place. They shouldn’t be charged, she said.
Another proposed change would reduce from $500,000 to $350,000 the minimum initial capital investment required to receive a fine dining license to sell beer, wine and liquor on the premises.
Gracia said meeting the current threshold is potentially onerous and was an issue for the only current holder of such a license, 111 Main in Bel Air. and the lower minimum would give the board “discretion” in reviewing future applications, she said, with the new rule to be applied “on a case-by-case basis.”
Also proposed is a change in the wording to modify how the board determines the $250,000 minimum capital investment for new dining facilities and newly installed kitchen equipment for the BNR restaurant license to sell beer, wine and liquor on premises.
Referring to the board’s decision to allow O.C. Brewing in Abingdon to include the value of kitchen equipment when it took over the building formerly occupied by Joe’s Crab Shack, Gracia said the new rule would give the board discretion to consider a “professional written appraisal,” so long as the equipment is no more than two years old prior to the date of application.
Another change adds a section covering “social organizations” to the Class C-3 club license, including that 51 percent of members be active members of the armed forces, armed forces veterans or active or retired policeman — and their spouses and adult children. In addition, social organizations would not be required to meet food service requirements imposed on other club licensees.
Gracia said a social organization club license holder such as Main Street Cigar in Campus Hills can’t meet food service requirements in its space, and the proposed rule change would permit waiving them “subject to requirements of the Harford County Health Department.