CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — It’s been a rough month for co-owner Linda Losey and the rest of the staff at Bloomery Plantation Distillery since the business was shuttered due to alcoholic beverage laws in West Virginia.
Now, with just days left in the 2015 legislative session, Senate Bill 574 could be the tonic Losey is looking for – if the bill is signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
The bill, which was approved by the House on Tuesday after passing the Senate earlier in the session, would amend section 60-3A-17 of the state code, related to sales of liquor by distilleries and mini-distilleries.
Current state law requires distilleries in West Virginia to go through a process called bailment, meaning they sell their alcohol to the state at a set price and buy it back at a 28 percent markup before selling it to the customer.
Retail liquor stores must undergo bailment as well.
“The tasting room was classified as a retail liquor license holder, and we hold a license to manufacture liquor and sell it in our tasting room. That’s the difference,” Losey said. “Under the retail liquor license, we have to put everything through bailment.”
Senate Bill 574, if passed, would reduce the bailment rate from a 28 percent markup to 5 percent, Losey said.
Additionally, Losey said Bloomery had to pay liquor stores in the market zone that carry the distillery’s SweetShine products 10 percent of everything sold. That market zone tax figure would drop to 2 percent if SB574 passes.
“(The financial strain of the bailment process) is a huge mountain for a small business,” Losey said. “You’re talking a couple of full-time people, and that means the world to us. This bill could make us profitable, and that’s all we asked for.”
Tallulah Pollard, one of the 17 people employed by the distillery while it was open, does social media promotions for Bloomery. She said she believes the traction this issue received on social media through Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #SaveSweetShine, may have influenced the legislation’s passage.
“(The social media attention) allowed the people who make these laws and generate bills to help West Virginia’s economy to see that people at the grass-roots level really care about how this business fares because we’re such a huge tourist attraction in the Eastern Panhandle,” Pollard said. “Sen. Herb Snyder (D-Jefferson) and also our local House delegates, Stephen Skinner (D-Jefferson) and Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson), were all over this supporting us. Truly, the support from every level has helped us get to this point.”
Skinner recently posted a petition online urging Tomblin to “Sweetsign” SB 574.
Of the 1,300-signature goal, 986 people have signed. The petition can be found at http://bit.ly/19cJBBA.
Legislators could not be reached for comment on the bill Wednesday.
“As soon as Gov. Tomblin signs the bill and it becomes law, we’ll open up again,” Losey said. “I can’t wait to put the sign out front that says ‘Open’ so we can be ‘open for business’ in West Virginia again.”
– Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.