Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
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Connie Stevens: Prohibition became increasingly unpopular during the Great Depression. In 1933, with the stroke of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's pen, everything changed.
Commentator: Now President Roosevelt in the Cabinet Room, the White House, is about to sign a long-awaited beer bill. The president signs the bill.
Connie Stevens: It meant a decision for Virginia lawmakers. Months later, the General Assembly voted to adopt a liquor control plan for the state, and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control was born.
Commentator: The decisive vote of the 36th state against prohibition is happy news for the grain raisers of the United States and for many others throughout the land. With an eye on December 5th, work is being rushed in distilleries and bottling works ...
Connie Stevens: So in June of 1934, loads of liquor legally traveled Virginia roads. Big news back then.
Curtis Coleburn, Chief Operating Officer for the ABC Department, reads from The Covington Virginian newspaper of the day.
Curtis Coleburn: Three large trucks, each almost as big as a C & O box car pulled up to the back of the dispensary building at 10:15 o'clock this morning. They had left Richmond at midnight. Probably no such large lot of liquor has ever passed at one time over the Midland Trail.
Dawn found them in the mountains and nearing their destination without accident or hindrance, and it was well there was no effort at hijacking for the big trucks were heavily guarded by men who know how to shoot and to shoot quickly.
Connie Stevens: Peace would not be taken for granted. Between 1918 and 1930, five agents with the state's Department of Prohibition were killed enforcing the ban against manufacturing liquor.
The ABC Department's Jennifer Farinholt says, these days, 130 law enforcement special agents oversee all of the establishments licensed to sell alcohol.
Jennifer Farinholt: Well, the first license was issued to the Pullman Company for serving alcoholic beverages on their dining cars.
Connie Stevens: Now, there are some 16,000 active liquor licenses in Virginia and more than 330 ABC stores in the state.
Store Number 123, here in Clifton Forge, is the only one still in its original location since opening in 1934.
Jimmy Houff: I can remember it back in the '40s, because my uncle worked there.
Connie Stevens: That's Clifton Forge Town Councilman Jimmy Houff. He's been shopping here for 50 years.
Jimmy Houff: The best change, of course, when they renovated was to let you go in and see the -- what you were buying, see? They had a book that had all the listed out, the smallest print you ever saw. And the -- and the pages were roughed up all the time because everybody's always looking through it.
Curtis Coleburn: We're not just the stores. We -- you know, we've got a lot of facets to the agency: prevention, dealing with underage drinking, and -- and excessive drinking. We have a lot of licensees that we're responsible for -- for monitoring, and -- and licensing the businesses in the public. There's not -- there's more than just the -- the liquor stores.
Connie Stevens: Curtis Coleburn says Virginia's ABC stores have contributed $6 billion to the state's General Fund, and the Department's embarked on modernizing the inventory and delivery system, going a little greener, and offering gift cards and Sunday sales in many areas.
Here's Department Commissioner Frank Hall.
Frank Hall: We hope we have improved this Commonwealth. We have certainly added a lot of resources that go to education, that go to health care, that go to the General Fund, to help in some of the services that we -- that we provide to our citizens.
At the same time, we have done so, we believe, responsibly and in a manner and a taste and a culture that is acceptable to Virginians.
Connie Stevens: And speaking of Virginians and their taste, data confirms that not all of Virginia drinks alike. For instance, Regional Manager Les Morris says Clifton Forge is bourbon country.
Les Morris: When you go out in more rural areas, you go to the darker liquors; where, in the city, it would be vodka.
I actually have the Charlottesville region, and there our drivers are vodkas. So we have a tremendous -- we'll have whole walls of various vodkas; where you come in here, and we've probably got 20, 20 shelves.
Connie Stevens: And Tidewater buys ten times the amount of brandy than other areas of the state.
Covington's ABC Store Manager Tammy Hannah will be happy to answer your alcohol-related questions.
Tammy Hannah: Everything at eye level is your most popular brand and more people, you know, buying the most expensive. The further down you go, the cheaper it gets.
Connie Stevens: She's an expert on the top sellers, like Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey and Grey Goose vodka. But she won't be talking from experience.
Tammy Hannah: Yeah, most of us that work in this area at least don't drink. So, you know, it may be that it's better that we don't.
Connie Stevens: Connie Stevens, WBTF News.
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