On Other Blogs

Washington State Wire: Small Grocers Want In On Liquor Sales

By Erica C. Barnett November 11, 2011

Erik Smith at the Washington State Wire reports that, just three days after the liquor privatization initiative (I-1183) passed, small grocers are already preparing to ask the state legislature to amend it. The law, in its current form, allows liquor sales only at stores larger than 10,000 square feet---like Costco, which poured $23 million into the campaign for the measure---and allows those same big grocers to act as their own distributors, negotiating liquor prices directly with manufacturers.

Earlier efforts to privatize booze failed, in part, because of the specter of hard-alcohol sales at every corner mini-mart. Changing the law would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature, which will meet in special session starting in late November. That's a tough sell, given that the measure passed overwhelmingly statewide, by a 60-40 margin.

Smith writes:
The small grocers, which account for about a third of the grocery sales in this state, really were non-players in this year’s battle. While Costco Wholesale, the state restaurant association and the big grocery chains say they tried to work with the small grocers as they were drafting the measure, Gee says her group didn’t get a look at the language until after it was filed. It’s not that the independent grocers and small chains were fans of the state liquor stores – they’ve been arguing for years that the state shouldn't be doing a job that rightfully belongs to private business. And they’re just as eager as the big chains to offer a well-stocked liquor section.

Trouble was, the initiative was written with the big boys in mind, [Washington Food Industry Association president Jan] Gee said. “Our stores get hurt all the way around, and I just think Costco was unaware of that,” she said. It prompted one of the strangest alliances of the campaign. Opponents spent much of it demonizing small shopkeepers – they argued that gas stations and mini-marts would slip through cracks in an initiative designed to keep them out of the business, and that they would sell booze to minors so that they might drive willy-nilly on the highways. Yet the Food Industry Association joined the opposition coalition, arguing in part that the initiative was too restrictive, and that it would keep too many small grocers from selling liquor. [...]

It all depends on what you think the voters were really trying to say about the booze business, Gee maintains. “I just don’t think people want big business to control it, any more than they wanted big government to control it,” she said.
Filed under
Show Comments