Mar 11, 2024 - News

Mecklenburg County ABC stores aim to modernize how to sell you booze

ABC Spirits storefront

ABC store in Plaza Midwood. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Shopping for booze in Mecklenburg County can now be done through an app on your phone.

Why it matters: It's the latest attempt by the local ABC board to keep up with fast-changing consumer trends and make the shopper experience feel seamless — so maybe you'll forget they're government controlled.

  • Customers complain North Carolina ABC stores feel outdated and Prohibition-esque. Lawmakers have pushed to privatize the sale of liquor.
  • ABC stores generate tens of millions of dollars that are invested in alcohol education ($10.5 million in fiscal year 2023), law enforcement ($4 million) and the city, county and public libraries ($20.3 million).

"There are a lot of critics out there about the control system, but there is tremendous value that we bring," Keva Walton, CEO of the Mecklenburg County ABC Board, tells Axios. The pros include equitable pricing, he adds.

Driving the news: Mecklenburg County ABC Board launched its app ABC To Go in all 30 stores last month.

  • After noting surging demand for online orders during the pandemic, the board co-invested in the technology with the Durham board.

Yes, but: The use of the app has been slow. That may be partly due to customers drinking less. Demand may pick up during peak seasons, like Christmas, Walton expects.

How it works: Once you enter your zip code to find the closest store, you can browse the location's inventory, add items to your cart and submit an order. It will tell you when it's ready for pickup.

  • Bring your valid photo ID and the credit card you used to pick up. The person who picks up the order has to be the one who placed it.

💭 My thought bubble: I tried the app myself. It was self-explanatory to navigate. I got a text within 20 minutes that my order (just a case of hard seltzers) was ready for pickup.

  • But when I showed up, the workers said the system wasn't working. I canceled the order.

Zoom out: While there are efforts local ABC officials can take to make liquor sales feel less regulated, most of the flexibility around liquor laws falls on North Carolina's legislature.

  • In the past year, they've considered letting ABC stores open on Sundays and allowing happy hours at bars and restaurants.

Zoom in: That could benefit tourism and hospitality sectors — especially in Charlotte.

  • While most ABC boards in the state report split sales of 80% from retail and 20% from businesses, Charlotte's divide is more like 60/40, Walton tells me.

What's next: Walton says the ABC board wants to add curbside pickup and possibly open drive-up-only locations.

  • UNC Charlotte School of Business is conducting a market study for the board. It will inform the location and scale of new stores.
  • In 2022 Mecklenburg County's ABC board opened a store only for mixed-beverage permittees (hotels, restaurants and bars) on Independence Boulevard. It may replicate that on the northern side of the county.
  • ABC board leaders met with businesses last week to discuss what technology advancements they'd like to see.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Charlotte.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Charlotte stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Charlotte.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more