Montgomery County’s Alcohol Beverage Services Receives Five Achievement Awards from National Association of Counties

by Patrick Herron

Per Montgomery County:

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Montgomery County’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS) has received five 2021 National Association of Counties (NACo) achievement awards in the categories of Civic Education and Public Information, Risk and Emergency Management, Information Technology and Community and Economic Development.

ABS is the alcohol wholesaler of beer, wine, and spirits for Montgomery County and operates 26 retail stores throughout the County. In addition, ABS manages alcohol licensing, enforcement and education for more than 1,000 businesses. Generating more than $30 million in net income annually, its profits are used to pay down County debt with a large portion deposited in the general fund to pay for resident services that would otherwise be funded by County tax dollars.

“Alcohol Beverage Services continues to innovate and the five NACo Achievement Awards the department received showcases the high-quality programs they provide Montgomery County,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “I applaud the unique partnerships ABS has fostered, the businesses they have supported and their proactive steps to protect the entire community during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“We are proud to be positively impacting the lives of the residents and businesses of Montgomery County through these nationally recognized programs,” said Kathie Durbin, director of ABS. “Throughout the COVID-19 health crisis, these programs continued our mission of protecting small businesses, keeping the community safe and ensuring continued financial growth for the department as ABS profits fund essential services like education, police and fire rescue and helps the County avoid the need to raise taxes.”

ABS received the following awards from NACo:

Civic Education and Public Information

  • COVID-19 Enforcement/Education Safety Alliance Team (CEESAT). Established in 2008, the Safety Alliance is an informal network of local regulatory and code enforcement agencies focused on the impact of dining, entertainment and special events on public health, safety and quality of life. It serves as a gathering space where its members can network, share ideas and get informed on regulatory best practices. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Safety Alliance was tasked with coordinating efforts between County agencies to help monitor and enforce COVID-19 local orders and disseminate pertinent information. To manage this effort, Alcohol Beverage Services’ Division of Licensure, Regulation and Education and Health and Human Services’ Division of Licensure and Regulatory Services formed the COVID-19 Enforcement/Education Safety Alliance Team (CEESAT). CEESAT is a multi-agency program that includes the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Department of Polices’ Animal Services and the Department of Transportation. It worked with the community through joint enforcement details that visited businesses during late afternoon and evening hours to monitor compliance with COVID-19-related restrictions. It also worked with multi-agency outreach details to visit businesses and provide them with information on COVID-19 requirements and available County resources.

Civic Education and Public Information

  • Curbside Mystery Shopper. For the past six years, more than half of the retail businesses that serve alcohol in Montgomery County have failed to ask for customer identification or have incorrectly read the ID when a customer attempts to purchase alcohol. To help struggling bars and restaurants during the pandemic, Montgomery County allowed for a temporary “alcohol to-go” model where off-premise sales of alcohol were allowed at certain restaurants and other on-premise establishments. To better assess the safety of this temporary measure, Alcohol Beverage Services Division of Licensure, Regulation, and Education (LRE) conducted 20 “Curbside Mystery Shops” in the fall of 2020 to determine whether businesses were correctly ID’ing customers.

Risk and Emergency Management

  • ABS Retail COVID Emergency Preplanning. From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ABS retail stores were designated an essential business. From mid-March through the end of 2020, ABS’ 26 retail stores had 2.5 million transactions and over 3 million visitors, making the retail team one of the most at-risk groups in the County. ABS’ Division of Retail Operations recognized an immediate need to protect employees even before the pandemic came into the national spotlight and established policies and plans in early February 2020. These plans included Plexi-glass barriers, unique staffing and business partnerships, changes in operating hours, PPE and cleaning supplies, employee contests, deep cleaning processes and additional retail policy changes.

Information Technology

  • Virtual Seminars. ABS coordinated and hosted a number of free, weekly virtual seminars to educate retail consumers on products being sold within the 26 County-owned retail stores. The seminars were promoted though social media and weekly retail email blasts and were hugely popular. Beginning in March of 2020, when tastings were no longer allowed in retail stores due to COVID-19 concerns, the ABS marketing team set to work organizing free seminars on Zoom with industry professionals. The seminars helped promote products sold in ABS stores while encouraging residents to stay home for entertainment. A dynamic website was designed offering course registration and recordings of sessions that were linked to YouTube.

Community and Economic Development

  • Maryland Spirits Month. ABS partnered with the Maryland Distillers Guild to promote the month of November 2020 as “Maryland Spirits Month.” ABS is the wholesaler for the County and operates 25 beer, wine, and spirits stores and one spirits-only store in Poolesville. A multifaced program was implemented to raise awareness of local, Maryland Made, alcohol distillers and help support these small businesses. The initiative was created in response to a need for local business support after the COVID-19 health crisis left many of these local businesses struggling. This program included a 10 percent discount in stores, creation of a new Instagram account and web page and digital asset creation. The program supported a sales growth rate of 288 percent ($57,000 sales increase) in comparison to November 2019. Though partnership, ABS boosted retail sales for local distilleries and created a marketing strategy that helped promote these products. This program will serve as a future model to help boost additional local small businesses and in turn benefit the County’s local economy.

ABS took part in two additional award-winning NACo programs through partnerships with other County departments including the Montgomery Energy Connection and Alcohol Beverage Services: Partnership on the LED & Libations Campaign and the COVID-19 Outdoor Dining Taskforce. For additional details on the award-winning programs, visit the NACo awards list here.


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