BARGAIN BOOZE: NC residents drive to Myrtle Beach for cheaper liquor

BARGAIN BOOZE: NC residents drive to Myrtle Beach for cheaper liquor
Costco in Myrtle Beach sells liquor $5 to $15 cheaper than the ABC stores in Wilmington and surrounding areas. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - With the holidays quickly approaching, many consumers will be stocking up on spirits to celebrate the season. Aside from the summer months, the Christmas holiday season is the busiest time of year for ABC stores in the Wilmington area.

Many local residents, however, will be on the road for those beverages they serve on the rocks.

"I drive to the Costco in Myrtle Beach every six weeks because I save so much," said David, a Wilmington resident who wishes to remain anonymous.

A 1.75 liter of Kettle One, a popular vodka, for example, cost $44.95 at ABC stores in Wilmington. It's the exact same price across the state, because North Carolina is a control state. In Myrtle Beach, the same bottle of Kettle One costs $31.99.

"If they are selling it for $31 and they're buying it from the distributor for $27, they're making $4 a bottle," David explained. "You can't tell me North Carolina is paying less money to the distributor than South Carolina, so in North Carolina, they're marking it up almost $15.

South Carolina is a privatization state, meaning liquor can be sold at private businesses and in stores like Costco. North Carolina, however, is 1 of 18 states in the country that only allows the sale of liquor in state-licensed stores.

Alcohol Beverage Control boards in each county in North Carolina control the sale of liquor. The Tarheel state also has the highest  taxes in the entire Southeast, making it easy for many residents, like David, to not think twice before crossing the border to Myrtle Beach.

"One of the reasons I don't like buying liquor in North Carolina is I don't like the idea my state is gouging me," David said.

While South Carolina also has a sales tax on liquor, there is a significant difference in the mark up on bottles of alcohol.

Alcohol distributors typically sell their products at a set price.  Buyers like those at Costco in South Carolina, determine their mark up, thus making the booze industry in South Carolina competitive. In North Carolina, however, the government-run liquor stores have the same mark up across the board, and is typically $5 to $10 higher than liquors sold in South Carolina.

Marnina Queen,  CEO of the New Hanover County Alcohol Beverage Control, believes there are several advantages to a control state.

"Here, no matter where you go in the state, it's a controlled price," she explained. "Whether you're in the mountains in Asheville or at one of our beautiful beach locations, the price is still the same."

She adds that the revenue generated from liquor sales in New Hanover County in shared among the municipalities.

Last year, New Hanover County grossed $38 million in sales. The county was given $840,975.81 for its coffers. The City of Wilmington received $590, 724, and the beach towns each got a portion of the pie, totaling over $315,000.

In addition, Queen says the local ABC board pays for four full-time ABC officers, and the revenue helps fund alcohol rehabilitation programs.

Queen says residents who make the trek to Myrtle Beach are driving money out of the community.

"Not only are you not supporting your own community by not purchasing here, you're actually coming over the line with a product you're not supposed to have in your vehicle," Queen said.

Legally, consumers are allowed to transport up to four half gallons of liquor across state lines. Any amount over that requires a special transportation permit.

David admits he has transported more than the legal amount, which is why he asked to remain anonymous. He stocks up because he refuses to buy liquor in North Carolina. The retired stock broker says going to Myrtle Beach to start with is not really about the money, but rather the principal.

"We're not only paying the mark up, which goes to the state, we're also paying the 8 percent on the tax, so we're basically getting hit twice, and that just goes against my grain," he said. "Get rid of the monopoly and transfer this over to private stores to sell liquor."

Copyright 2015 WECT. All rights reserved.