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Liquor superstores scope out Washington sites

Fri., Jan. 27, 2012, midnight

Total Wine announces opening of two stores in Spokane area

An East Coast company calling itself a “wine superstore” has announced plans to open two stores in the Spokane area.

Representatives of the company, Total Wine, said those plans are the direct result of voters passing Initiative 1183, which ended the state monopoly of liquor sales in Washington state.

Total Wine has 78 stores nationwide that sell liquor, wine and beer.

“We think Washington is a unique opportunity,” said Phil Armstrong, the company’s vice president of real estate. “It’s not often you have an entire change from state-controlled stores to private sector (liquor sales).”

Before I-1183’s passage, private businesses were only permitted to sell beer and wine; hard liquor was sold only by the state or in state-licensed stores.

Total Wine is also planning to open locations in Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, Armstrong said.

Chain stores have begun targeting metro locations across the state. A number of reports have said Liquor Depot and Beverages and More have begun shopping for spots in the Puget Sound region.

Armstrong said no Spokane store locations have been chosen yet. Research suggests it would be best to open one store in north Spokane and another in Spokane Valley, he said.

Total Wine stores are usually 20,000 square feet or larger, hire about 30 workers, and stock their shelves from an inventory of up to 8,000 wine choices, 3,000 choices for spirits and 2,000 beers.

The new stores would not be able to open until after June 1, when I-1183 takes effect, Armstrong added.

The initiative won by 18 percentage points in last November’s election. A number of large retailers, led by Issaquah-based Costco, helped promote the plan to eliminate state control of liquor sales, which dates to the 1930s.

Area wine retailers say the arrival of a big wine seller will impact their sales, but they hope the pain is short-lived.

“It’s like a gorilla is moving into the neighborhood,” said John Allen, co-owner of Spokane’s Vino! A Wine Shop.

Allen said the goal is to stay focused on customer service and staff wine knowledge.

He acknowledged Total Wine will carry a vast inventory of beverages. The chain’s wine selection is roughly 15 to 20 times the choices Vino carries, Allen said.

But its size might also be Total Wine’s weak spot, because smaller specialty shops like Vino can offer customers specific guidance on how to find quality choices, he added.

Vino has 850 customers who have wine bins at the store. Those customers rely on staff recommendations and stay loyal because they like the choices recommended by the store, Allen said.

Jeff Postlewait, co-owner of Bottles, a beer and wine specialty shop in Millwood, said he sees a likely impact on sales but hopes customers see his shop as a friendly neighborhood dealer with a focus on customer service.

Postlewait sees one upside in the arrival of Total Wine: a consolidation of the numerous wine retailers that dot the Inland Northwest. The area has so many wine sellers that the market is saturated, he said.

The sellers that will survive, he added, are the ones that “find their niche.”



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