Just when you thought the debate about liquor sales in the state of Washington was finished, new details and concerns came to light this month about controversial Initiative 1183.
In addition to the 900 state employees who will be unemployed come June 1, which the Office of Financial Management predicts will cost Washington $11.8 million, many small business owners are worried about competition. And I empathize with the tough situation they are faced with.
I-1183 passed thanks to the big spending of Costco. Now Costco, Fred Meyer, Safeway and Albertson’s are among the big retailers applying for liquor licenses in Washington. What promises to be a boon for these national retailers could prove disastrous for local retailers.
Ken and Jeff Paskett own the South Park Rexall Pharmacy in Port Orchard. Their pharmacy is one of 170 contract stores in Washington that are allowed to serve alcohol due to an absence of any state stores, according to the Port Orchard Independent. They are concerned that contract stores like their own will not be able to compete with big retailers.
“I can’t imagine that many contract stores are going to make a go of it,” Jeff Paskett told the Port Orchard Independent. “They (Costco, etc) have buying power.”
“The state and liquor, they do a great job,” Ken Paskett said of the soon-to-be-defunct state liquor system.
Evan Hudspeth is the general manager of McDougall’s Steakhouse, a restaurant in Richland. He told KAPP-TV that fees in I-1183 will make it more expensive to buy alcohol. He said this increase in price will likely cost customers more than businesses.
“When they tell you price will be dropped, the state still wants their portion, the distributors still want their portion and at some point someone’s going to have to pay for it,” Hudspeth told KAPP-TV.
Local distilleries are already losing money following the passage of I-1183. Blue Flame Spirits is a distillery in Prosser, Wash. that produces vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy and grappa. The owner, Brian Morton, told CBS News that Blue Flame Spirits has lost $100,000 since I-1183 was passed.
“We were pretty much selling exclusively in state stores, so not using them, we got the rug pulled out from underneath us,” Morton said.
Honestly, it does not matter to me where alcohol does and does not get sold. I have always found Washington’s state control of hard liquor bizarre — a relic from the post-Prohibition era. My home state of California operates plenty of liquor stores, but the difference is they are all corporately owned, such as BevMo!
However, I do like an underdog. We all do. Costco, Safeway and the like are not underdogs. They are Big Business. The local stores, restaurants and distillers that are suffering or are poised to suffer under I-1183 are the underdogs, and so they have my sympathy.
If I had to choose between my money going to the government that is supposed to be by the people, for the people and my money going to the entities that try to sell me more stuff — I would prefer the one that is supposed to have my best interests at heart, especially in a time when states are running so many budget deficits.
Local businesses did have a glimmer of hope, but it has already been dashed. A judge ordered a trial to take place to determine whether I-1183 broke state law by addressing more than one subject in a single initiative. I-1183 included a public safety provision that opponents claim was a separate issue. The judge ruled on Monday that the initiative was constitutional.
In a time when government is cutting costs wherever it can, especially higher education, I hope a solution can be found that keeps local businesses afloat, gives the public what they voted for and can balance the economy. And while I am making wishes, I would also like $1 million, a Porsche and for Peyton Manning to become a 49er.