John Bodnovich, Champion of Small Bars and Taverns

A wiser man than me once said you need three “As” to succeed in business: a great attorney, a great accountant and a great association. The meaning is clear: Success is rarely a solitary achievement. You need people watching your back. Such is the mission statement of the American Beverage Licensees (ABL) association.

According to the association’s executive director, John Bodnovich, the ABL affords its members the peace of mind of knowingJohn Bodnovich that someone is looking out for their interests in Washington, D.C.

“Essentially, membership is like buying government insurance,” he says. “When something happens on the federal level of government that affects our members’ businesses, we’re there fighting to protect their best interests. Our 35 affiliates around the country also work with state legislators regarding anything that might impact the alcohol industry. All that for the membership fee of $25 a year.”

More than 500,000 U.S. beverage alcohol licensees create millions of jobs for the American economy. Beverage retailers often are active in civic and other local organizations, sponsoring Little League teams, participating in local Chambers of Commerce and donating millions of dollars to charitable causes each year.

The ABL’s contributions are particularly appropriate this time of year because this May is the 58th annual Tavern Month, a time when U.S. beer, wine and spirits retailers celebrate the heritage of tavern culture as well as the positive impact taverns have on their communities. The neighborhood bar and tavern represents the community spirit that is at the core of the country’s social fabric.

“Tavern Month provides us with an opportunity to raise awareness of the long-standing role of local bars and taverns in communities large and small across the United States,” Bodnovich says. “Our country’s bars and taverns represent the individuality of the people and places where they’re located. Each is unique in setting, atmosphere and custom. That’s something we as a nation should celebrate as inherently American. Ask just about anyone 21 years of age and older and chances are they’ve been in a bar or tavern to celebrate good times with good friends.”

Bodnovich believes the benefits of raising public awareness through Tavern Month are two-fold. First, neighborhood bars and taverns are iconic U.S. institutions and among the last of the small “Main Street” businesses. As is true for independent package stores, locally owned taverns compete head-to-head with national chain retailers. Their success is a testament to the genuine value they provide American consumers.

“Likewise, Tavern Month affords us the opportunity to make a counter argument to those who disparage the responsible practices of our business owners. The vast majority of tavern and bar owners strictly enforces carding policies and trains their staff how to responsibly serve alcohol. Our member businesses partner with other local stakeholders, including law enforcement and community groups, to foster a safe community and environment.”

Pressing regulatory and tax legislation is pending in Congress and state legislatures that could impact independent beverage licensees significantly. Bodnovich thinks one of the biggest challenges facing bar and tavern owners is the non-negotiable interchange swipe fees banks and credit-card companies charge.

“Our association has been fighting to get these rates lowered,” he says. “Congress has now acted to reform swipe fees in a fair and equitable manner, but the fight is not over until the legislation is implemented. These measures will translate to lower costs for their customers.”

Another challenge Bodnovich sees is the quiet erosion of beverage alcohol’s acceptability. He thinks most Americans believe people of legal age shouldn’t be afraid to have a glass of wine at a dinner party, a beer at a ballgame or a cocktail at a neighborhood bar or tavern before driving home responsibly.

Protecting the best interests of small bar and tavern owners is more than a full-time job for Bodnovich.

“We should never take for granted the role local bars and taverns play in American culture,” he says.

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