Regulators, industry groups push for change to alcohol sales rules to accommodate coronavirus closures

(Creative Commons photo by Aksel Lian)

Alcohol regulators and industry groups are pursuing a rule change that could alter how businesses sell booze amid statewide coronavirus closures.

The move could allow restaurants to sell beer and wine like other takeout items — something currently barred under state law.

In a separate part of the same measure, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is pushing for liquor stores to be able to do curbside pickup orders, which could reduce the risk that employees and the public are exposed to the virus.

First, though, state officials need to figure out if such temporary rule changes are even legal.

Glen Klinkhart directs the state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office. He said when it comes to allowing to-go alcohol orders, the ABC Board’s vote on Wednesday was the start of a process, not the end of it.

“It’s a motion to ask the governor to please do so,” Klinkhart said.

But because the measure seeks to change state statutes, it needs to be looked over by the state attorney general’s office before going before the governor.

Klinkhart said the move is being fast-tracked to try and get clarity to businesses.

And the reason for that urgency is that many small businesses are desperate.

“Any little bit is worth fighting for,” said Sarah Oates, president and CEO of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, a lobbying group representing the alcohol and hospitality industry.

According to Oates, to-go ordering would be a modest source of revenue for local businesses. But restaurants and bars have been hit so hard by the pandemic closures that Oates said her group and its clients are appealing to the governor for the temporary rule change.

“We’re looking at potential massive number of permanent closures in our industry, and huge financial hits to our industry for years, not just months. Because our entire tourism season is going be gone,” Oates said.

She added that her group sent out a survey to restaurants in Alaska about their business plans. In the results they got back, 14% of restaurants have already decided they will close permanently, Oates said.