Oct 13, 2022 - Food and Drink

Richmonders could soon be drinking in the mall

Illustration of an open beer can with the bubbles forming the letters RVA.

Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

The owners of Short Pump Town Center have an application pending for an open container permit to allow shoppers to cruise the mall with an alcoholic drink in hand.

The intrigue: If approved, which is likely to happen and be in effect by spring, it would be the first commercial center in Richmond to allow it and the closest thing to an open container district anywhere in the area.

Why it matters: Legislation loosening Virginia's once stringent liquor laws (restaurants couldn't serve "liquor by the drink" until 1968) have passed the General Assembly in recent years, but official open container districts have remained elusive in the state.

  • In 2021, a bill to allow localities to create up to three open container or entertainment districts didn't make it out of committee.

Catch up quick: Legislation went into effect in 2017 allowing commercial lifestyle center ABC licenses, like the one Short Pump is seeking, in which shoppers can buy a drink from a restaurant and wander through the mall drink in hand (in a plastic, branded cup).

  • A similar law allowing event organizers to set up open container districts in designated areas up to a dozen times a year for events like First Fridays or the 17th Street Farmers Market went into effect in 2019.

Of note: These licenses are meant to encourage shoppers and event attendees to buy alcoholic beverages from restaurants as opposed to vendor beer or wine trucks, often brought in for special events.

By the numbers: Since 2017, Virginia ABC has received 13 applications for the commercial districts — 10 of which came from Northern Virginia districts. Short Pump mall is the only Richmond-area center to apply, according to Virginia ABC.

Meanwhile: Other states and districts have passed laws allowing open container districts as a way to help restaurants recover from the pandemic, including Raleigh, which launched a social district in August.

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