Eastern Panhandle lawmakers fight for distillery

Journal photo by Chelsea DeMello The Bloomery Distillery Plantation closed its doors last week, but it could reopen if West Virginia lawmakers pass legislation to make business conditions more favorable for the Jefferson County distillery.
Journal photo by Chelsea DeMello The Bloomery Distillery Plantation closed its doors last week, but it could reopen if West Virginia lawmakers pass legislation to make business conditions more favorable for the Jefferson County distillery.
Journal photo by Chelsea DeMello
The Bloomery Distillery Plantation closed its doors last week, but it could reopen if West Virginia lawmakers pass legislation to make business conditions more favorable for the Jefferson County distillery.

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — When Bloomery Plantation Distillery closed its doors last week, local delegates began stepping up the fight for small business.

Bloomery has been a staple in Jefferson County since 2010, and now due to alcohol tax regulations and what it says is a misclassification as a retail liquor store, its increasing success has led to a stark decline in revenue – forcing the business to close.

The distillery’s closing came just hours before Procter and Gamble announced it was moving into West Virginia, which is slated to bring about 700 permanent jobs to the state.

It didn’t take long for local legislators to begin advocating for change on Bloomery’s behalf after hearing of its closure.

“We want a Procter and Gamble, but the majority of jobs in West Virginia are held by small business owners and almost no one at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce stands for them,” said Del. Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson.

Eric Bell, the CFO for Bloomery, said a few representatives from the distillery plan to leave today for Charleston with the hopes of working with lawmakers as time winds down in the legislative session.

“There’s only so many days left,” Bell said. “So the issue now is time. We are up against the clock. We are working with legislators to see if we can fix the code to be favorable.”

Skinner stood alongside Delegates Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, and Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, to introduce a bill similar to last year’s HB 4454 during Friday’s legislative session. The bill would expand the sale of alcohol on Sundays and provide a benefit to distilleries like Bloomery, which are popular tourist destinations.

“It’s not just Bloomery; all of the distilleries want to see reform here. Bloomery was just the most active,” Skinner said.

Although HB 4454 died in the Senate last year, Espinosa said he believed this year would be more successful for a bill of its kind.

“A host of new legislators provides an opportunity to educate them about the bill and help them understand the impact it would have of the tourist industry,” Espinosa said.

Skinner said he is currently working to draft two additional pieces of legislation this week that will address market zone tax and bailment regulation, which, he said, are two things crippling the local distillery.

“The law on alcohol tax in West Virginia is completely outdated and it really needs a complete overhaul, and we’ve been fixing it piece by piece,” Skinner said.

Bell attributed bailment as the No. 1 reason Bloomery is no longer profitable, despite its success.

“For every bottle I sell, I’m losing money,” Bell said. “We’ve had no choice but to close our doors.”

Espinosa said he has not yet seen the two pieces of legislation that Skinner is working on, but is prepared to review them upon completion.

“I’m certainly planning to look at that legislation very closely,” Espinosa said. “Because it involves other entities, particularly the retail outlets, that’s something I obviously want to understand and get their perspective on, and hopefully get their support on what Del. Skinner is proposing.”

Since Bloomery’s closure, Bell said the distillery has received an outpouring of support from customers and visitors, which has reiterated the fight to keep going.

“It’s been overwhelming. The support online and through social media and emails has been great. It really validates our thought process and means that we’ve got to get this fixed,” Bell said.

– Staff writer Chelsea DeMello can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 215, or twitter.com/cdemelloJN.

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