South Carolina cashes in on N.C.'s liquor shortage
Plus: Next steps on 2040 plan; Local Covid numbers rise again; Readers weigh in on transit, museums, clubbing; Charlotte Country Day has a TikTok sensation with agent, lawyer and merch
Good morning! Today is Monday, July 26, 2021. You’re reading The Charlotte Ledger, an e-newsletter with local business-y news and insights for Charlotte, N.C. Check out our audio version 🎧 on Spotify.
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While N.C.’s state-run ABC Stores battle empty shelves, South Carolina liquor retailers say they’re more nimble and almost fully stocked
NC vs. SC: Walk into a state-run liquor store in Charlotte, and you’ll see lots of empty spots on shelves, like the photo on the left taken last week at the ABC Store on Johnston Road a mile north of the state line. Just over the border in South Carolina, booze is in good supply at Southern Spirits (right) and other independently owned liquor stores, with the exception of some nationally hard-to-find brands.
by Cristina Bolling
The “out of stock” signs are rampant on the shelves at liquor stores across Charlotte, where North Carolina state officials complain that Covid-related supply chain holdups are keeping them from getting customers the spirits they seek.
Less than a mile across the state line in Indian Land, S.C.? Totally different story.
Independently owned Southern Spirits was buzzing last week, with well-stocked shelves and the Steve Miller Band playing overhead as customers perused the offerings and chatted up employees for recommendations.
There were a few bare spots on shelves here and there, where products in widespread short supply like Casamigos tequila were out. But clearly, the Covid pandemic has been South Carolina liquor stores’ time to shine.
North Carolina’s liquor-sales system, in which local ABC boards operate liquor stores under heavy state regulation, places it at a huge disadvantage to its neighbor to the south, which has a far nimbler — and more customer-focused — system.
South Carolina’s liquor stores control their own stock and supply, and many of their distributors stockpiled liquor to get through the Covid-induced spike in alcohol sales.
The independence has served them well all throughout the pandemic, when they were allowed to keep their doors open to customers, while North Carolina was making patrons stand at the entrance while workers went in and pulled bottles from the shelves.
“Jokingly, we sent (N.C. Gov. Roy) Cooper a Christmas card because of the money that we made last year because of the way they operated their business,” said Ron Ericson, floor manager at Southern Spirits, which has been operating on Charlotte Highway for 21 years.
There are lots of North Carolina email addresses on the distribution list for Southern Spirits’ weekly “Boozeletter” by buyer Keith Haze that circulates every Thursday advertising events, specials, a drink of the week and industry tidbits.
“We had a significant percentage increase in North Carolinians to come down here” during the pandemic, Ericson said. “And once people come down here and start shopping here, they don’t go back.”
Many South Carolina liquor store workers have a background in the industry and plenty of liquor knowledge, while North Carolina stores are government-run. The N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission oversees local ABC boards, like Mecklenburg’s, which runs all the liquor stores in the county.
In South Carolina stores, which are privately owned and regulated by the state, you’ve got employees like Ericson and his colleagues, who view it as their job to educate customers, often pointing them in the direction of liquor that’s less expensive but of better quality than big brands with huge marketing campaigns.
Ericson and his colleagues at Southern Spirits go to distilleries and choose individual barrels to buy from, and when those spirits arrive in the store, they announce them in the Boozeletter.
“People fly, crawl and swim to get them,” he said.
Unlike South Carolina, which has mostly full shelves, North Carolina has been experiencing a liquor shortage in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the Mecklenburg County ABC Board said it was “in regular communication and working collaboratively with the NC ABC Commission and our suppliers to address the many challenges brought about by the negative impacts of the current supply chain disruption,” according to Axios Charlotte. A state ABC Commission spokesman told The Charlotte Observer that “there have been strains on the global supply chains of a variety of products throughout the entire pandemic.”
Meanwhile, another South Carolina liquor store, Liquor at the Lake in Lake Wylie, S.C., told The Observer it was “fully stocked.”
At Southern Spirits, a display of Tito’s vodka — a hard-to-find brand in some Charlotte liquor stores — stood more than five feet tall.
Staff turn there price labels upside down on shelves when a certain liquor is out of stock, and a quick scan of the shelves found not many overturned labels.
Liquor in South Carolina also tends to be cheaper. In 2015, an informal comparison of prices between Mecklenburg ABC Stores and Frugal MacDoogal near Carowinds found that four our of five bottles were cheaper in South Carolina, typically by $1 or $2, according to CharlotteFive.
In recent years, there have been efforts to overhaul North Carolina’s liquor distribution system, but no changes appear on the horizon. Local ABC boards are hesitant to give up their monopoly status.
Which, if things continue, might mean more Christmas cards to North Carolina’s governor from South Carolina booze sellers.
Related Ledger articles:
“Party on: Liquor sales are hitting new records,” (June 16, 2021)
“Why liquor from the ABC store costs so much,” (March 20, 2019)
Today’s supporting sponsors are T.R. Lawing Realty…
… and Payzer:
2040 Plan excitement continues with place mapping, community events, online form
Bummed out that the debate over the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan is over? Never fear — the next step toward changing development rules in Charlotte has started, and the city is asking for your input.
The city last week started its “Charlotte Future 2040 policy mapping process.” That’s about as exciting as it sounds, though it’s actually important in helping determine how neighborhoods change in the future. The mapping, the city says, “will translate the plan’s policies to a map which will be used in multiple decision-making processes such as future zoning decisions and capital investments.”
What it means: Under the city’s 2040 plan, one of the main changes is setting new development rules with a system of what are called “place types” — like residential neighborhoods, commercial centers and manufacturing/logistics. Eventually, the city will create a map of what kinds of place types it would like in different parts of the city, and it will devise development rules for each “place type.” One of the biggest sticking points to passing the 2040 plan, you might recall, was whether the two place types for residential neighborhoods should include the ability to build duplexes and triplexes in those neighborhoods. In a 6-5 vote last month, the City Council decided that they would, but the specifics haven’t been written yet, and the location of the place types hasn’t been determined.
The city now has devised a map of what the place types framework actually looks like in practice. You can look at where you live or work and see what kind of place type the city thinks it is. By the end of the year, the city planning department will determine what place type it should be.
You’re invited to provide your feedback in an online form and at a series of in-person events that started Saturday and continue over the next few weeks. Planners say they’re also available to speak at neighborhood meetings and community events. —TM
Local Covid numbers rise again; Mask recommendations ‘under active consideration,’ Fauci says
Mecklenburg County’s Covid numbers — which remain far below their January peaks — continued trending higher last week, according to new numbers from the health department.
There were 89 patients hospitalized in local hospitals as of Wednesday — more than double the number from the first week of July, but still 84% lower than the peak of 565 on Jan. 13. Four Mecklenburg Covid patients died in the last week, down from five a week earlier. Weekly deaths peaked at 59 in January, according to a Ledger analysis of health department data.
Vaccinations have slowed, and some health officials are starting to muse about the possibility of reviving mask mandates, even for those who are fully vaccinated. Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering recommending masks for vaccinated people: “This is under active consideration,” he told CNN. State and Mecklenburg officials have generally followed CDC guidelines. —TM
Reader response 📫
Let’s reach into the Ledger e-mailbag and see what readers had to say:
In response to “As Levine Museum transforms, historians question digital plan” (🔒, July 2):
“The exhibit ‘Cottonfields to Skyscrapers’ was the most important primer to the city of Charlotte when I moved here to take a new job. I attended a lecture and went to that exhibit at the Museum of the New South and very quickly was able to get up to speed on the community and its history. … So much of our life is digital, and we lack the communal, tactile experience of seeing real objects and walking through an exhibit and talking to people and attending gatherings and learning in a real life environment. Screens absolutely do not replace it. We need something like this. It doesn’t make any sense to throw this out.”
In response to The Ledger’s “Legends of Charlotte” series (🔒, July 7-16):
“These are brilliant! Love the interviews with the legends. This is news with TIMELESS value.”
“The ‘Legends of Charlotte’ feature is brilliant — it is introducing 2021 Charlotteans (who may only have been here for 5-10 years) to people who really built and shaped the city, while also getting some trusted bylines back in circulation.”
“Love this series you’ve put on. Would love to see a similar series done with prominent retired Charlotte television and radio personalities sometime. John Hancock, Eric Thomas and Paul Cameron all come to mind. But I bet there are plenty more.”
“I thought [Humpy Wheeler’s advice to] ‘get a goat’ was gonna tell me to get a mentor. I didn’t realize he meant an *actual* goat!”
“Thank you for a fascinating look at Joan Zimmerman’s life and business. As a former banker in the late ’70s, early ’80s, I related to her business experiences in a ‘man’s world.’ Now, as the practice manager for my husband’s law firm, I find her key business lesson spot on! From the employer’s perspective, look for people who are the right fit and pay them well. From the employee’s perspective, pick up the trash!”
In response to “The real reason why light rail is bypassing the airport” (Transit Time, July 15):
“The piece on the train was so very important. Many think Charlotte is driven by a banking economy. It is in reality driven by a real estate development economy. A train that does not go to the airport may be our most short-sighted idea this century!”
“The airport is a key factor in Charlotte’s growth and standing, and any proposed changes and/or additions need to be carefully evaluated. This appears to be another idea from the ‘do-gooders’ which have cursed the Queen City in the past with various boondoggles. A key question in this matter not covered is where and how the airline passengers would access this Silver Line to the airport. It might work great for uptown bankers to use, but what about passengers not in uptown who don’t want to drive through uptown traffic and have to search/pay for limited, expensive uptown parking just so he can ride light rail to the air terminal? Not for me.”
In response to “I took my mom clubbing in uptown” (July 17)
“I appreciate what you are trying to do as I look for real business and local news. I implore you to stick to the serious news and not deliver content leading with articles such as ‘my mother and I went clubbing,’ or what breweries or restaurants are offering. This town is desperate for good local news.”
“‘I took my mom clubbing in uptown’ = Perfect read while waiting for my daughter at swim lessons.”
“The ‘I took my mom clubbing’ story was great. I hope my daughter takes me clubbing (but no club will replace The Pterodactyl).”
“Lindsey’s article about clubbing with her mom really slaps (slapped?). I forwarded it to my daughter with a note suggesting that we put it on our list of things to do the next time she’s in town. What fun!”
In response to “4 Charlotte hotspots fined for breaking Covid rules” (July 19)
“Your continued series on Covid-related ALE fines is problematic for me. One issue is that these aren’t timely stories. You’re reporting incidents that happened months ago but in today’s Covid context. I understand that the fines were levied recently but I would argue that doesn’t make the story timely. Removed from the terrifying context of that time, the stories can paint a picture of malicious intent, which I would argue is misleading. Further, I see you citing the incident reports but not the business owners for balance. … I’m struggling to see any perspective or trends being communicated with the stories. They read more like a sensational police blotter.”
In response to “Are cars the answer to better economic mobility?” (July 22)
“Excellent info, thanks for this analysis. I so long for someone to ask each city leader, commissioner, planner, mayor, etc. how often they actually use mass transit themselves; if not near daily, they aren’t particularly credible to me. Like the ones putting their kids in private schools yet proclaiming the excellence of our public education system, or living in gated McMansions in Union County.”
“Your recent article on mass transit vs. the auto and the city's blind obsession with mass transit was excellent. We should put mass transit expansion ‘on hold’ until we see the implications of Covid going forward. Working from home and other measures used during this event may well affect life going forward. I’m not sure all of the previous mass transit usage will ever return nor whether the appetite for downtown office space will continue to be as attractive going forward.”
“Seems our city leaders are hell-bent on the transit plan when much cheaper alternatives exist. Nice to see an actual real piece of journalism these days.”
In response to “Employers still reluctant to mandate vaccines, lawyers say” (🔒, July 23)
“The idea of rewarding individuals, or incentivizing them with potential million dollar jackpots, for doing what is necessary to protect themselves and others from a potentially deadly virus is beyond my belief radar. I compare it to World War II, when blinds on residences and other windowed facilities had to have blackout curtains, and they had to be drawn. No one was rewarded for following these life-saving rules — they were fined for not following them. There was minor concern for those who felt claustrophobic with drawn curtains; major concern for the lives of the entire community at large.”
In response to “When your smartphone makes you look dumb” (July 24):
“As an event planner, I was working with a client on a menu. She was complaining that because she had used the venue so many times, the menus were boring. I told her that we had new menus and gave her an example: ‘You will love our new menus — they include freshly shaved prosciutto and melon.’ Unfortunately, it came through as ‘freshly shaved prostitute.’ Yikes!”
“I remember a recent listing that I toured. The agent had created a features list: Included on that list: The naughty pine counter tops … and the naughty pine ceiling. Additionally, there is a story that is real estate folklore: The large ‘deck’ perfect for entertaining.”
Big NoDa land purchase: Atlanta developer Third & Urban paid $24.24M for three parcels by the Sugar Creek light rail station north of NoDa, property records show. The land totals 12.24 acres on Raleigh Street and is mostly older industrial buildings. It’s an area undergoing significant redevelopment and is just down the street from a planned arthouse theater.
Teens behind on immunizations: Nearly 21% of Mecklenburg seventh-graders did not receive their required immunizations during the last school year, as many patients skipped well visits during the pandemic, according to new state data. Adolescents are required to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, chickenpox and other diseases. (Observer)
Charlotte air pollution linked to Alzheimer’s: Air pollution in the Charlotte area raises the risk of hospitalization and death from Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new Duke University study. Particulate matter in the Charlotte area, which is usually the highest in the state, tends to be above levels recommended by the World Health Organization but below standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. (N.C. Health News)
New grocery rewards gas station: A BP station has opened at 4712 Monroe Road, near East Mecklenburg High School. That’s not that newsworthy except that it’s the only BP inside the south Charlotte triangle bounded by Independence Boulevard, I-485 and I-77, and Harris Teeter Fuel Points rewards can be used at BP stations for up to $1 a gallon off.
Charlotte TikTok sensation: A senior at Charlotte Country Day School has 1.1 million followers on TikTok and “has his own agent, accountant and lawyer to manage business deals and recently came out with a line of merchandise,” South Charlotte Weekly reports. Carter Gallo, 17, “is recognized nearly everywhere he goes” with girls “just screaming his name and coming up asking for pictures.” His breakthrough moment came in 2019, with a video of him washing his hands with toothpaste. (South Charlotte Weekly)
Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Reporting intern: Lindsey Banks