Virginia Governor Orders Shutdown—But Exempts State-Owned Liquor Stores as ‘Essential Businesses’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | March 23, 2020 | 10:41pm EDT
Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

( - Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia ordered “non-essential retail businesses” in his state to shut down for a month starting at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday—but expressly exempted the state’s government-owned liquor stores, calling them “essential retail businesses.”

The governor ordered all schools in the state—both public and private--to close for the remainder of the school year.

The governor ordered: "Cessation of all in-person instruction at K-12 schools, public and private, for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year."

He also closed, among other things, all “dining and congregation areas” in restaurants, food courts, breweries, wineries and farmers markets. Additionally, he closed theaters, concert venues, fitness centers, gyms, beauty salons, barber shops, racetracks, bowling allies, amusement parks, indoor shooting ranges, and public and private social clubs.

He additional declared that “all public and private in person gatherings of 10 or more individuals are prohibited.”

In issuing this order, Northam cited his “authority” under Section 44-146.17 of the Code of Virginia.

This law says in part:

“Executive orders, to include those declaring a state of emergency and directing evacuation, shall have the force and effect of law and the violation thereof shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor in every case where the executive order declares that its violation shall have such force and effect.”

Committing a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia, according to Section 18.2-11 of the Code of Virginia carries an “authorized punishment[]” of “confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.”

In his executive order, Northam lists the “essential retail businesses” that he is going to allow to remain open during the shutdown he is ordering. These include “liquor stores,” which in Virginia are owned and operated by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, a government agency.

Northam’s order says: “Essential businesses may remain open during their normal business hours. Such businesses are: … Beer, wine and liquor stores.”

Other retail outlets that can remain open include such places, for example, as grocery stores, pharmacies, electronic retailers, automative facilities, hardware stores, gas stations, pet stores, and medical facilities.

The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Authority's website describes its function as a government agency that sells liquor, thus generating money for the government.

“Virginia ABC generates a reliable stream of revenue for Virginia and promotes public safety through the responsible sale and regulation of alcoholic beverages,” say the Virginia ABC website.

“Virginia ABC and its nearly 4,000 employees are proud to serve the Commonwealth of Virginia as an independent political subdivision and one of 11 public safety agencies working with the Secretariat of Public Safety and Homeland Security,” says the website,

"The agency administers ABC laws with an emphasis on public safety by ensuring an orderly and regulated system for convenient sales and responsible consumption of alcohol,” it says.

“Virginia ABC is a leading revenue producer for the commonwealth and the source of future economic growth and innovation for the state,” says this government agency’s website.


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