With the enforcement of the initiative to privatize liquor sales in Washington, the state is projected to generate more money than before. Also, consumers are expected to pay more for liquor, and more than 1,000 people will lose their jobs.
“The public in general voted to privatize liquor sales,” said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board. “The initiative goes well beyond privatizing liquor sales.”
Since voters passed the initiative, I-1183, the Liquor Control Board has worked to prepare for the transition between the state and privatized liquor sales on June 1, Smith said. This has included creating the spirits retail license for retailers who want to sell liquor, and auctioning off the rights to individual state stores.
“We think the initiative writers thought we that we owned state stores,” he said. “They were incorrect. We lease the state properties … So by auctioning off the right to apply for a liquor license, the Liquor Control Board brought in an astounding nearly $31 million for these rights.”
On April 23, the state auctioned off stores that included the Pullman Liquor and Wine store, which had its rights purchased by Eric Busch of Richland at $175,100, according to Liquor Control Board. Busch also purchased the rights to a store in Colville, Wash. for $51,200.
While he has ideas for what he wants to do with the store, he said he is still working on the final concept.
“We want to maintain the service and the selection the store was providing,” Busch said. “So I think that's our endgame... As we go through the process, we're certainly going to be looking for feedback from customers.”
In addition to the sales, the businesses, employees and consumers will also be affected by the initiative.
The state will go from having 328 liquor outlets to more than 1,500, Smith said. In addition, they will go from having 1,400 employees to about 200.
This could include employees from the Pullman Liquor and Wine store losing their jobs.
Store Manager Linda Landers said she is a little sad because not only could she lose her job, but she does not think the larger retailers will be able to offer the same variety of products that the current state liquor store does. The store currently provides between 1,100 and 1,400 different items.
“You won’t see that in the grocery stores,” Landers aid. “They’ll carry their own brands and they won’t be able to carry the same variety of drink this store has.”
In addition to variety, the cost of liquor could also change.
Smith said a fiscal analysis from the state budget office project that more money will be made off of liquor sales after the initiative takes affect, than was made under the previous system.
Due to heightened sales that are expected as a result of the larger number of liquor outlets, as well as the fees, the money generated is expected to increase, he said. The prices of liquor could also increase for consumers.
“No one knows what the actual prices are going to be,” Smith said. “The marketplace is going to set that. If you look at what the state marks up a bottle of liquor now based on its price at minimum, the distributors and retailers will mark it up at minimum to what the state is now and mark it up to 20 percent higher.”