California liquor board to investigate Amazon’s ‘secret’ LA shop

The Californian liquor authority is set to investigate online giant Amazon for a potential breach of its liquor license for a secret wine shop in LA, according to new reports.

According to Wine-Searcher, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is investigating the potential breach of the license following it exposé of the ‘secret’ LA Amazon Wine shop, which it claims doesn’t exist.

Amazon obtained a license for a bricks and mortar liquor store in LA back in February, but it only came to light after it’s application to open a San Fransisco wine shop on the site of its warehouse in the Dogpatch area of the city was reported in the local press.

Amazon allegedly told the San Francsisco Chronicle the San Francisco license was primarily to grow its Prime Now alcohol delivery business, rather than adding lots of brick-and-mortar wine and beer shops – and it appears this is the case in LA too.

Californian state law only allows alcohol delivery if the company selling the products has a brick-and-mortar presence, however, a spokesman for Amazon apparently told Wine-Searcher that “the ‘storefront’ language is just a requirement of California liquor license laws and all of our licenses have this language,”, adding that it was “not accurate” to call [the LA operation] a store”.

“It’s simply a semantic language requirement as part of the licensing process. It is Prime Now alcohol delivery from a warehouse,” they are reported as saying.

Following this exchange, Wine-Searcher investigated further by visiting the secret ‘shop’ in person, claiming that there was no physical liquor store, only the Amazon warehouse on an industrial estate, and that it was not possible to buy alcohol in person at the site, which it claimed was in contravention of the restrictions in its liquor license.

Other requirements of the license Wine-Searcher claimed were not being fulfilled include displaying products for sale in the store (this includes digitally or via a catalogue so not all bottles have to be physically displayed), staying open for half the amount of time that it operates deliveries from the warehouse, offering any bottle for sales that it delivers and to display its opening times at the entrance.

It will be interesting to see if the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agrees with the alleged comment attributed to the Amazon spokesman that the store-front is purely semantics.

If not, and they finds that the online giant has violated the terms of the license after an investigation, it could file a case to go before an administrative law judge, which would see Prime Now issued with fines or even have its liquor license suspended and revoked.

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