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Local legislators oppose new Bridgeport liquor license

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

Two Harrison County legislators said they are unhappy with Alcohol Beverage Control Administration plans to bid an additional liquor retailing licensee in Bridgeport.

Delegates Frank Angotti Jr. and Larry Linch, both Harrison County Democrats, said they believe additional licensees would place too many competitors in a declining market. Angotti also said he believes adding liquor retailers runs counter to attempts to educate the public, particularly minors, about the problems associated with alcohol.

Retail liquor licensees are limited to a 10-year period and are scheduled to be rebid beginning March 3. Angotti said Clarksburg currently has an A-3 license holder and a B license holder. The A class licensees are for single companies that operate multiple outlets while B licenses are issued to stand-alone operations.

The Clarksburg zone would not be changed but Bridgeport would change from an A-2 License holder to three B licenses under the new ABCA bidding formula, Angotti said.

"Our population level went up 1,700 people from 1990-1999, not a huge amount," he said. "Liquor sales in Harrison County are declining and seven stores will spread them too thin."

Angotti said that according to ABCA statistics, Harrison County liquor outlets had gross sales of approximately $970,000 in 1997, $893,000 in 1998 and $878,000 in 1999.

Linch, a member of the Joint Rule Making Review Committee, which is reviewing the plan, also said he was concerned about the possibility of too many retailers competing for a shrinking pie.

"Given the decline of liquor sales in the county, I can't see how putting in one or two more stores would be a good idea," Linch said. "I want to get the people who came up with the formula for the number of stores before the committee and see how they came up with it."

Angotti said he is glad to see that Harrison Countians appear to be consuming less liquor than in the past.

"The main thing is that it's a controlled substance that only adults should have access to," he said. "It looks like drug and alcohol education is working. I personally don't think we should put more emphasis on the product by adding another liquor store."

ABCA Commissioner Donald Stemple said that if the ABCA is forced to change the bid formula, the agency would have to refigure minimum bids and it could throw off the goal of raising $19 million revenue on which the minimum bids were calculated.

"That $19 million has already been added to this year's budget," Stemple said. "Changing the number of stores in this time frame could put us in a real bind."

Linch added he has other concerns about the licensing formula. He said he is concerned the ABCA may not be adequately following the Legislature's wish to protect small retailers and variances in the bid formula itself.

"There are differences in minimum bids, based on the amount of liquor purchased from the state in the last years, for stores in the same counties that seem to have no rhyme or reason," Linch said.

Del. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, said he is withholding judgment until he gets a chance to study sales and growth statistics.

"Until I see the numbers, I don't want to jump on one bandwagon or another," Cann said.

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