Policy Studies Competition Policy

Alcohol in the 21st Century Store

C. Jarrett Dieterle
Resident Senior Fellow, Competition Policy

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The COVID-19 pandemic saw to-go and delivery alcohol dominating the news headlines of the drinks industry. Restaurants were granted the newfound ability to offer to-go margaritas, and more liquor stores were able to deliver bourbon bottles and six-packs. Overall, the number of states allowing alcohol delivery from both on-premises and off-premises alcohol retailers increased substantially.

While the push for states to extend or permanently codify more types of alcohol delivery continues, policymakers should be careful not to ignore the humble brick-and-mortar store. Despite the pandemic’s reordering of the delivery economy, most Americans still take trips to a physical store to buy their weekly groceries and beverages. Yet physical retailers in the alcohol space are subject to a host of outdated laws and regulations governing where and how alcohol can be sold—and who can sell it.

The alcohol industry has shown notable pluck in surviving pandemic shutdowns and supply chain disruptions. The sector produces a significant amount of manufacturing jobs, and its economic benefits for local communities is well documented. This laudable growth trajectory, however, has largely been in spite of the legal structure governing alcohol.

For the industry to continue expanding and meeting consumer demands in the dynamic craft drinks era, lawmakers and regulators across America will need to rethink outdated alcohol rules and find safe, sensible ways to update them. One place to start is in the neighborhood store.