Local establishments feel pinch of statewide liquor shortage
A truck from Republic National Distribution Co. typically brings in a new supply of liquor each Monday and Friday to Olde Towne Tavern in Hastings.
But management at the local bar said they've run into issues over the past several weeks getting new shipments in. Tessa Stout, the bar manager, calls the situation “a nightmare.”
“We're ordering [new supplies] and it's showing it's in stock, but it's not showing up at all,” said Stout, whose mother, Cindy Esther, owns the tavern.
“Our Jack [Daniel's], our Crown [Royal], everything's pretty low,” she said. “All of our whiskey is low.”
A similar situation is taking place at the Superette party store nearby, which, as of Tuesday, still was waiting to receive a shipment from Republic National that was supposed to arrive last Friday.
“Most of our Canadian whiskey is out,” store cashier Amanda Pullen said. “I'm out of half-pints and pints [for whiskey]. Smirnoff vodka, we're out of.”
Pullen said the store has to submit its weekly order by noon Tuesday to get supplies Friday.
“It's hard to do that when you haven't gotten last week's order,” she said.
This scenario has been playing out at bars and party stores all over Michigan, and it's attracted the attention of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.
The LCC Tuesday called on Republic National – one of the three principal authorized liquor distribution agents in the state – to submit a written correction plan to resolve issues regarding delivery of spirits, stock shortages and lack of communication to LCC and its liquor licensees. Representatives from the company have verbally indicated their plan would fix these issues by the end of November, but added that “there are no guarantees or anything,” a company representative told commissioners.
“This is a RNDC plan. It is not MLCC’s plan and is not endorsed by MLCC,” commission spokeswoman Jeannie Vogel said. “MLCC’s priority is to hold RNDC accountable and ensure all issues are resolved quickly.”
LCC Chairman Pat Gagliardi asked Republic National to personally and immediately contact approximately 350 licensees who have submitted complaints since last Friday through LCC’s online complaint form.
Company officials cite chronic software issues at their new facility in Livonia.
“We apologize to our many customers and to the State of Michigan for not hitting our high goals for solid delivery service to the many retailers we service,” Republic National Executive Vice President Steve Rochow said in a statement released Monday. “We know the new facility will improve our service when it is fully operational. But moving from two warehouses to one while serving our many customers turned out to be like building a new plane while flying it – and we have not performed adequately.”
A fiber-optic line cut Nov. 6 interrupted telecommunications and computing capabilities to Republic National's Livonia facility for more than 10 hours. The company sent a phone message Nov. 7 to its 13,000 customers to apologize, provide background on the situation and let retailers know how best to reach the company with specific issues, Rochow said.
Republic National said they will not be taking orders through Friday. LCC licensees and customers are asked to place orders next week with the company on their regular order date. Orders placed prior to these dates will continue to be fulfilled and delivered. RNDC has advised any orders placed on the online ordering system on Wednesday through Friday will be deleted on their end, Vogel said.
Other establishments around Barry County aren't experiencing shortages. At Waldorff Brewpub and Bistro in Hastings, company president and chief executive officer Mike Barnaart said the shortage has not impacted businesses, noting liquor sales only make up about 10-15 percent of the pub's total alcohol sales.
“Being a microbrewery, a majority of our alcohol sales come from our own beers,” Barnaart said. “People usually come for the craft beers.”
Tessa Stout said most of her customers at Olde Towne Tavern are understanding of the situation involving low liquor supplies. She said they've been ordering “a little heavy” when they send their requests for new shipments, to make sure they have enough on hand.
The state liquor control commission has called on the state attorney general's office to analyze the situation with Republic National and come up with potential solutions, which may include fines and/or citations for failure to supply licensees with the products they ordered.
Last year, distilled spirit sales in Michigan reached nearly $1.5 billion. The LCC paid out $70 million in distribution fees to its authorized distribution agents, with Republic National receiving about two-thirds of that amount, the commission said in its news release last week.
Retailer licensees who are having difficulties receiving spirit orders in a timely way – or not at all – from authorized agents, may submit complaints directly to MLCC at https://tinyurl.com/mlcc-ada-order-complaints. In addition, the LCC will post updated delivery schedules from Republic National as they are received online.