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ABC board wants study on liquor store demand

The Henderson County ABC Board wants to commission a market study to find out whether there is sufficient demand in the county for more liquor stores.

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The board on Wednesday asked an Asheville consultant to come back within six weeks with a scope of work for a marketing study covering all of Henderson County. Because the ABC board has no budget of its own, it would then ask the Board of Commissioners to pay for the marketing research.
Dennie Martin, of the Asheville consulting company Martin McGill, told the ABC board that the county board has three options: building and operating its own store, merging with one or more of the three existing ABC systems in the county, or building a store and contracting with Hendersonville to operate it.
The third option "has been attempted several times" in Buncombe County, Martin said, but such an arrangement had never been consummated.
"I know it's possible within the statues," he said. The state ABC Board, which must approve the location of new liquor stores, would welcome a contract arrangement, he predicted, because the state is trying to reduce the number of units it deals with.
In an interview after the meeting, Martin was asked whether his study would also measure what effect a new store would have on the sales at existing stores.
"They don't have the budget to go there," he said. "What they're trying to do is to limit the work that I do down to something they can afford and determine whether it's worth going forward. I think what we're going to look at it, is there sufficient unmet need to support a store."
In board discussions the two most commonly mentioned locations for a new store have been Etowah and Mills River. George Erwin said Mills River is the more likely choice in his opinion because of the growth of the N.C. 280 corridor.
"I think the only caveat to a Mills River store is the Fletcher store is darn close," Martin said. "You could almost say it's between Fletcher and Mills River."
Fletcher's sales dropped by 25 percent when Buncombe County's ABC board built a store on Sweeten Creek Road.
Erwin said the county board needs the survey to determine whether it should move forward or dissolve.
"If there's not market out there we're all spinning our wheels," he said.
Henderson County has five ABC stores now. Hendersonville operates three and Laurel Park and Fletcher each operate one. Board members and managers of the three local systems have all told the county board in meetings since last October that they don't see a need for a sixth store. They predicted that another store would draw sales from existing stores, possibly putting one or more out of business.
"I'm still not seeing the rationale for it," Hendersonville ABC board chairman Charlie Byrd said in an interview Wednesday. "If they build one in Mills River, Fletcher's dead. I'd be surprised if the state would approve one in Mills River."