By Doug Ireland
---- — The sale of liquor in the state is big business — really big business.
The New Hampshire Liquor Commission announced yesterday it had a record year for sales in fiscal year 2013 — $603.5 million. That’s an increase of nearly 7 percent — $38.9 million — over the previous year.
That translates into $145.6 million in revenue, no small amount for a state with a recently approved budget of $10.7 billion.
The sales spike is attributed to revamping existing stores, including expanding some of the busiest ones.
The announcements came just a few days after N.H. State Police announced they had screened hundreds of drivers and arrested dozens at two sobriety checkpoints over the weekend in Salem and Seabrook.
Ironically, some of the funding for those checkpoints comes from the state’s liquor sales.
While the state has come to depend on liquor sales to help fund everything from education to social services, officials also try to reduce the number of alcohol-related highway deaths and societal problems that result from alcohol consumption.
Representatives for Gov. Maggie Hassan, the Liquor Commission and the Department of Transportation said yesterday the boost in liquor sales is in conjunction with an increase in efforts to prevent drunken driving.
“Public safety remains the governor’s top priority,” said Marc Goldberg, Hassan’s spokesman. “We put more troopers on the road to help address issues like these.”
The recently approved state budget includes $724,384 to hire 10 more state troopers.
Goldberg said the governor’s office is committed to keeping state highways safe. Hassan praised the Liquor Commission for the increased sales.
“Thanks to the dedicated work of the people of the Liquor Commission, this was another fantastic year for New Hampshire’s liquor stores, bringing an important boost for the state,” Hassan said in a statement. “With new stores and creative sales and marketing initiatives on the horizon, I look forward to continued success from NHLC.”
The state has 77 stores throughout the state. The commission has renovated or relocated 13 liquor stores in the last year, including facilities in Hampstead and Plaistow. That and an increased emphasis on improving customer service and sales produced record revenue, according to commission Chairman Joseph Mollica.
Salem, the state’s fourth top-income generating store, will be replaced with a $5.4 million, 10,000-square-foot liquor store, according to Liquor Commission administrator Craig Bulkley.
The store would replace an outdated facility that has stood at 417 S. Broadway since 1965, Bulkley said. That store generated $23.3 million in gross sales in the fiscal year that just ended.
The Salem store is one of several being built in the next year to increase sales, he said. They include two 20,000-square-foot stores being built along Interstate 93 south and north in Hooksett. The stores — twice as big as the current facilities — will anchor the Common Man restaurant chain’s redevelopment of the rest areas in Hooksett, according to the commission.
That is expected to help generate an additional $1 billion in revenue over the next eight years.
The state’s top two stores are both along Interstate 95 in Hampton.
Liquor Commission spokesman E.J. Powers said revenue from liquor sales helps cover the commission’s operating expenses, including its enforcement division.
The enforcement division conducts sobriety checkpoints and sales compliance checks at stores and restaurants.
“The Liquor Commission in New Hampshire has a significant enforcement division which addresses those (issues),” Powers said.
Any remaining money goes to the state’s general fund, he said. That funds various education, health, transportation and social service programs.
The state is also tackling the problem of impaired driving through its Driving Toward Zero Coalition and its Strategic Highway Safety Plan Committee, according to Craig Green, an administrator with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
Approximately $500,000 from the state budget is allocated for highway safety improvements, including DWI efforts, Green said.
“One of these strategies is to try to address impaired driving,” he said.
The state’s two-year budget also allocates nearly $1.8 million per year for the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention & Treatment, Goldberg said, a $250,000 annual increase.
N.H.’s top liquor stores
1. Hampton, I-95 north $32.7 million
2. Hampton, I-95 south $28.9 million
3. Portsmouth $24.4 million
4. Salem $23.3 million
5. Nashua $19.3 million
6. Hooksett, I-93 north $19.2 million
7. Nashua $18.1 million
8. Hooksett, I-93 south $16.1 million
9. West Lebanon $12.7 million
10. Keene $10.7 million
Sales are for fiscal year 2013.