By Ruth Fordon
“How can a liquor store go broke?” wondered island residents. Deliveries to both the Swan Quarter and Ocracoke ABC stores were stopped early in the year as unpaid invoices of more than $100,000 to distillers accumulated. By June the shelves at the Ocracoke ABC store were nearly empty, restaurants accustomed to purchasing at the ABC store for their drink trade were making elaborate arrangements to purchase through Dare County and island gossip was in overdrive.
The State Alcohol Law Enforcement Division has been investigating, to rule out theft and embezzlement, and to find out what went wrong. As reported by Catherine Kozak in the Island Free Press, Jay Etheridge, Chairman of the Hyde County ABC store has labeled “mismanagement” of records, inventory and staff as the bottom line. According to Etheridge, no money was missing but other problems that have been accumulating over years have led to the current situation. For a complete description of the investigation and steps taken, readers can go to www.islandfreepress.org and see the Local News section for Ms. Kozak’s initial report and her followup story on June 23rd.
By the middle of June the ABC Board had a reasonable plan in place and has committed to managing the stores properly. The state will also be monitoring the operation weekly.
Ann Warner, owner of the popular Howard’s Pub checks in on the progress so far and her concerns. “Howard’s Pub became aware of the significant problems involving the Hyde County ABC store’s inability to purchase liquor in March. Fortunately, the North Carolina ABC Commission, under the direction of Mike Herring, Chief Administrator, was very proactive in working with us to secure inventory from Dare County. Dare County was equally supportive and efficient in working with The Pub with the ordering procedure and providing the inventory. The downside of purchasing from Dare County was the commitment to travel to Buxton to retrieve the product, resulting in an average roundtrip of four hours. Hyde County ABC has begun receiving shipments again, albeit limited in quantity. Additionally, there are still some kinks to work through in terms of processing the orders. Time will tell if Hyde County ABC is able to service its regular customers as well as the permittees on Ocracoke. Howard’s Pub will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure we have liquor for our visitor’s enjoyment.”
“If there is one commonality amongst island residents it would be our ability to withstand and adapt to hardship,” comments Daphne Bennink, owner of The Back Porch Restaurant. “Having to purchase our product and now supplement our liquor inventory through Dare County ABC has its downside, most particularly the travel time but dealing with a professional, well organized entity has been a treat. I am doing my best to work with and assist Hyde ABC in its rebuilding process. To be dealing with this during the peak of our summer season is difficult. I hope that their business projections are correct and that they succeed in growing to where they can service the needs of the visitors, residents and mixed beverage holders of Ocracoke alike.”
For now, there is a limited stock of most brands of popular liquor and a wait and see attitude. Many concerns and questions still remain to be answered. Until then, Ocracoke will do what it does best, improvise and carry on.
This entry in the Ocracoke 4th of July parade pokes fun