Virginia lawmaker hopes expanding open-container access could rejuvenate brick-and-mortar retail

Brick and mortar shopping centers in Virginia may soon fight back against online retailers like Amazon — with alcohol. At least, they could if a new bill passes the state legislature.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola (D - Arlington), would expand open-container access under the state’s liquor laws. It was previously reported by the Washington Business Journal.

“It’s very much to get people away from their computers and shopping online and out into the community, into their neighborhoods,” Favola said Thursday. “Retailers believe they really have to create a destination environment.”

Right now there are only a few shopping centers in Northern Virginia that have active “commercial lifestyle center licenses,” which allow shoppers to purchase alcohol in a restaurant and take it outside while walking around the development. Those include Fairfax Corner, Loudoun Station, and the Village at Leesburg. It’s because only shopping centers that sit on at least 25 acres — and also meet a host of other requirements — can apply for the license from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. Favola’s bill would reduce the acreage minimum from 25 to 10, thereby giving additional developments a chance to apply.

“The reason that this came up as an issue, the Restaurant Association, the Retail Association and others who care about creating a sense of community or destination places in their communities, really are trying to help their brick and mortar operations compete with Amazon and other online retailers,” Favola explained.

Shopping centers would also have to meet additional requirements beyond the acreage minimum, and Favola said customers would have to use specific, easily identifiable cups to prove they purchased their alcohol within the development.

Reactions were mixed among Arlington shoppers Thursday.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Marya Thomas said of the bill. “I think they should allow that. Why not? I mean as long as you don’t do any harm with it, why not?”

Others, like Ashley Fletcher, felt differently.  “A lot of people bring their children over here, and it’s kind of hard to control how many people can become a little too intoxicated and I think that would effect the public in a negative way,” she said.

Favola thinks the bill will likely pass during this upcoming legislative session, which begins next week.