At the state-run SoDo liquor store on 4th Avenue South, long a bottle-buying destination for bars and restaurants around the city, the shelves have gotten barer by the day—the selection now picked over so that only dusty bottles of 99 Bananas and DeKuyper Pucker Peach Schnapps remain. On Friday, the date Washington officially hands over the business of liquor sales to actual businesses, stores like these will be a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, at area QFCs, shelves are waiting to be filled with handles of Smirnoff and Malibu rum (and some local bottles). In the coming weeks, consumers will learn just how Initiative 1183 shakes out in terms of higher or lower liquor prices and brand availability. But right now, from local supermarkets and small-business entrepreneurs to corporate big-box behemoths, everyone in the liquor biz is preparing for that actual, physical change that happens when the clock strikes midnight tonight.
While Safeway supermarkets all over Seattle have readied newly stocked liquor aisles for unveiling, a rep for QFC says employees will be stocking the shelves tonight, putting security caps on every bottle and placing the price tags, which have so far been on a need-to-know basis. A lot of speculation has been made over how much a bottle of post-privatization booze will go for; the Seattle Times did some math, concluding in price hikes.
Christopher, wine department man at the local-oriented, fancy-pants Queen Anne Metropolitan Market says he, "took a look at the liquor invoices; the wholesale prices are pretty close to current (state-run) retail prices." Expect Metropolitan Market to take its usual local and hard-to-find product approach to its liquor sales; but be warned, a bottle of small-batch, craft-distilled liquor (Ebb and Flow gin, for example) bought at the grocery store will likely cost more than it did before the transition.
On the other hand, according to the Seattle Times, Costco, a major force in getting 1183 passed, will carry only about 70 relatively generic liquor products and because of the megastore’s buying power, Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, claims its prices will be about 5 percent below the state’s prices on certain big-name products such as Jack Daniels and Grey Goose. Costco will, however, carry some local spirits; Seattle’s Batch 206 Distillery will have reps at area Costco stores this weekend introducing customers to its Counter Gin, and promises legendary local barman Murray Stenson will be present for some bottle signings.
Cashing in on Costco’s initiative-passing investment, big boxes from out of town, like California-based BevMo and Delaware-based Total Wine and More, are also preparing to open here. The News Tribune in Tacoma reports BevMo’s first two stores, one in Tacoma and one in Silverdale, are calendared for midsummer. Total Wine and More, the nation-wide alcohol retail juggernaut has plans to open a 30,000 square foot store in Bellevue in late June.
In Wallingford, locally owned Wine World and Spirits (formerly just Wine World) is gearing up for the transition, too. The popular, and massive, wine-focused store is taking a similar approach to Metropolitan Market, stocking up on local, hard to find, and never-before-seen-in-Washington products. "June 1, when we open the doors, it’ll be a hell of a splash," founder David LeClaire recently told the Puget Sound Business Journal.
The bottom line: In the wake of this statewide transition, Seattleites will have more convenience and more choice when it comes to buying booze. But, is convenience and choice commensurate with cost? We may know soon, but not yet.