Home delivery of alcohol getting a test run in Georgia

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Four months after the concept won approval from the General Assembly, some stores are gearing up to have the wine, beer and liquor they sell delivered to the homes of customers.

A few businesses started doing initial runs last week after the Department of Revenue approved training courses on how to make the deliveries and ensure they go to those — 21 or over — who are legally allowed to accept the purchases.

It will be a while — possibly months — before some big stores, such as major grocers, begin delivery as they work though the logistics and regulations. But others are getting a head start.

“We’re just trying to give the customers what they want, it’s that simple,” said David Greenbaum of Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits, who testified before a state Senate committee on behalf of delivery legislation in June.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

He said Wednesday that Tower had made 20-25 deliveries during an initial test run that started about a week ago.

Even when deliveries become more universal, customers will only be able to get beer, wine and liquor brought to their door from stores in their taxing jurisdiction, such as a county. So, for instance, Greenbaum’s Atlanta store won’t be able to deliver to customers in Lawrenceville.

State Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, had been pushing the delivery bill well before the coronavirus pandemic hit Georgia in mid-March, but the lockdown that followed helped convince some lawmakers of the measure’s necessity.

More and more Georgians, even when the economy was reopened, didn’t feel safe in stores and continued getting groceries and other items delivered.

Amanda Farahany, founder and chief executive officer of My Panda, a personal assistance business, had customers asking for delivery early on during the pandemic.

“We started getting requests for alcoholic delivery until we heard from the Department of Revenue that we weren’t supposed to be able to do that,” said Farahany, whose firm is delivering or will soon deliver from about a dozen wine shops, small markets and liquor stores inside the Perimeter. “People wanted it, and people didn’t want to leave their homes to get it."

Some restaurants have been delivering drinks and bottles of wine with food orders, while liquor stores dramatically increased curbside pickup sales during the pandemic. While overall state tax collections were down during the first three months of the pandemic, the state took in 4.5% more than the previous year from alcoholic beverage taxes.

When the bill passed in June, Harrell said it was a response to the way more and more Georgians shop, noting that one large retailer had 400,0000 requests for alcohol deliveries in 2019, all of which had to be turned down.

After the bill was signed into law, the Department of Revenue had to draw up regulations and approve training programs for those delivering the sales.

Beer or wine can’t just be left on the front porch like Amazon deliveries. The delivery person would have to check IDs to make sure the buyer is old enough to purchase alcohol.

The law allows local municipalities to opt out of allowing alcoholic beverage delivery.

Businesses have had to redo websites, hire or contract with delivery services, and figure out how to get the word out to potential customers.

Some of the restrictions are due to opposition from a long-powerful lobby at the Capitol, the association of small liquor stores, which fought to keep liquor delivery out of the bill. The group said many of its 500 outlets across the state were at a disadvantage because some of them don’t have sophisticated websites or easy access to delivery services.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Greenbaum said his stores sent emails to customers and worked to improve their websites. Some customers have called asking for delivery, others go to the website, which the business had been working to update for months. The company currently does print, radio, digital and billboard advertising to get its message out.

“We are going to do everything we can to let people know,” he said.

The company is getting two vehicles ready but has been using Zifty delivery to get its sales to customers.

At My Panda, Farahany said her company’s drivers do touchless checks, taking pictures of IDs to make sure they are delivering to Georgians legally eligible to buy alcohol. My Panda started deliveries last week and is building up contacts with local stores to increase potential customers.

“We were very happy (the law) passed, and now what we are trying to do is figure out how to get the product directly to customers,” she said.

Martin Smith, executive director of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, called the law’s passage “a win for our locally licensed alcohol retailers.”

“Georgia’s home delivery laws set high standards for what is the ‘new normal’ when it comes to the safe delivery of beer, wine and spirits,” he said.

Harrell said limits in the current law on where stores could deliver could be changed during future legislative sessions if customers demand it.

“At the end of the day, this is what we could get through (the General Assembly),” he said. "The whole motivation is to meet consumer demand.

“This thing will continue to be tinkered with.”