Latest from The Spokesman-Review
OLYMPIA — After dropping during the first month of private liquor sales, the amount of liquor sold and the taxes the state got for it went up in July.
The state Revenue Department said sales were up about 15 percent this July compared with July 2011, and sales for the second quarter of this year are up about 11 percent over last.
Liquor sales took a big jump in May as the deadline imposed by Initiative 1183 for switching from the state monopoly to private sales approached. Bars and restaurants in particular stocked up against the coming change.
Sales dropped about 9 percent in June, the first month the law took effect, compared to the previous June.
In all, Washington consumers bought 10.6 million liters of spirits for the second quarter, an increase of about 1.2 million liters. (For folks who don't do "metric", that's about 2.8 million gallons total and an increase of about 317,000 gallons.)
The state also collected $68 million in taxes and fees on liquor, an increase of about 15 percent. Prices were higher in July than in pre I-1183 days, but they did come down sligthly from June.
It's too soon to tell what kind of trend we're developing, the Revenue Department said.
First off, no, we won't hand out a coupon for Total Wine to the winner of this Office Hours contest.
Last week we ran a story describing plans by Total Wine to open two big megastores in Spokane. Total Wine, you might remember, is one of the nation's largest alcohol retailers. It's big.
That story also raised the question when another competing chain liquor retailer, BevMo!, might show up in Spokane. The story quoted a BevMo! spokeswoman saying: "Not yet, but you never know…it might not be all that long." The California firm has two Washington locations, in Silverdale and Tacoma.
We're offering a gift card to Atticus coffee shop to the lucky reader who can come closest to the opening date of the first BevMo! store in Spokane County.
Right: a $10 certificate for good ol' coffee or tea from Atticus, if your guess is closest to the opening date. Not the announcement date; the date the store actually opens for business in Spokane.
Submit entries here under this post; leave your guess in this date form: MM/DD/YY.
In case of ties, we'll figure out some sort of solution. Workers or employees of BevMo! and Cowles Co. are not eligible.
Many of us have heard the complaint: dang retailers, they don't show the actual price of the liquor I want to buy!
In the wake of Initiative 1183, which got the state out of the business of selling booze in Washington, people are clamoring for a simple system of determining the actual price of the bottle. The shelf price is always posted, but many stores don't include the 21.5 percent state sales booze tax, and the liter tax.
If you have an iPhone, there's an app for that.
It's been developed by a Seattle and Olympia-based firm called Expectationist, and it's called the WA STATE Liquor TAX app. As described on iTunes, it is a 99 cent calculator that simplifies your buying decision.
Its description says: Future versions should include the ability to share deals with friends, find the nearest bargains, and even track prices of your favorite brands.
Additional material added, 1:50 p.m. June 22
You can find a copy of the petition at the bottom of this post.
The aftermath of Initiative 1183 continues. A West side group, the 1183 Coalition, announced on Friday it filed a Thurston County suit contesting how the state implemented the rules covering sales from retail locations.
I-1183, passed by voters last fall, allows private sales of liquor across Washington state.
The coalition includes the Washington Restaurant Association (WRA), the Northwest Grocery Association (NWGA) and Costco Wholesale Corp.
The suit is particularly focused on Liquor Control Board rulings that deter retail-to-retail sales. The main concerns are:
- 24-liter per day restriction on sales of wine and spirits from retailers to restaurants
- Restrictions on delivery locations for spirits distributors
- Imposition of unauthorized fee on certain spirits manufacturers
- Discrimination against foreign spirit producers ability to market product to retailers
Attorneys for the coalition say the board's approach "arbitrarily restricts the wholesale distribution and pricing of wine and spirits. This approach erodes small businesses' ability to compete in the marketplace; it protects distributors from competition and increases prices for consumers."
So you may have heard the Washington State Supreme Court ruled Thursday (May 31) in a 5 to 4 opinion, that the privatization of liquor sales was legal.
The dissent, authored by Justice Stephen Warning, includes this summary:
An initiative can impose new taxes, but the ballot title cannot misleadingly imply that it does not. Likewise, earmarking a portion of the new tax revenue for public safety is not inherently problematic, but (the Constitution's) article II, section 19 precludes combining a substantive liquor privatization law with an earmark that has no rational relation to liquor privatization and may have been included only to win votes. We respectfully dissent.
Here's the majority opinion summary of the changes that I-1183 makes in the distribution of revenue for local governments, as well as the small changes pertaining to advertising:
The initiative additionally secures the current distribution of liquor revenues to local governments and dedicate[s] a portion of the new revenues raised from liquor license fees to increase funding for local public safety programs, including police, fire, and emergency services in communities throughout the state. The additional portion is "$10 million per year from the spirits license fees [to] be provided to border areas, counties, cities, and towns through the liquor revolving fund for the purpose of enhancing public safety programs."
I-1183 also modified the law pertaining to liquor advertising. The initiative removed a provision that prohibited the Liquor Control Board from advertising liquor but maintained the LCB's "power to adopt any and all reasonable rules as to the kind, character, and location of advertising of liquor." I-1183 also added that the LCB is prohibited from restricting the "advertising of lawful prices."
So the Initiative 1183 attacks can begin. Starting Friday, people who voted for the privatization of liquor sales in Washington can claim they opposed it along. Sure, now they can say, "I knew it would lead to higher prices."
On Friday those prices become available. Today's SR story showed two things: most liquor choices will cost more than in the state system; and a lot of people are not sure how the prices will shake out, after the initial first few months of marketing and hype.
On the retail side, the initiative means higher operating costs and no reason to add jobs. But on the wholesale side, there's clearly a job boom. The big liquor distributors for the state are now Southern Wine & Spirits and Young’s Market Company.
Both have Eastern Washington offices. Combined, the two distributors are expected to add about 210 workers in Eastern Washington for delivery, sales and warehousing. That number comes from John Guadnola, executive director of the Washington Beer and Wine Distributors Association.
OLYMPIA — The rights to operate Washington's state-owned liquor stores have all been auctioned off, at prices ranging from about $750,000 for a store in Tacoma to just under $50,000 for a store in Spokane. The state will collect $30.7 million from the auction.
The state closed the auction Friday after a flurry of last-minute bids for the rights to the licenses at 167 stores, and winning bids were announced this morning. The state owns the license, but not the buildings they occupy. New owners will have to negotiate leases with landlords and purchase inventory. If they can't come to a deal on a lease, they can re-sell their license or relocate within a mile of the current location.
Winning bids for two Spokane-area stores went to Ranvir Nagra of Veradale. The other Spokane-area stores went to bidders who didn't receive any other licenses in the county.
The liquor store at 2401 W. Wellesley drew the smallest bid in the state, at $49,600, and the store in the Manito Shopping Center at 3017 S. Grand was second at $50,100. Top bid for a Spokane-area store was $300,100 for the Spokane Valley store at University City.
The state auctioned the licenses to its liquor stores because voters approved Initiative 1183 last November, which gets the state out of wholesale and retail liquor operations. Under the initiative, most private liquor stores will have to have at least 10,000 square feet of floor space, but the owner of a license from a former state store can operate in a smaller facility.
More than 120 people or companies placed bids over the past 45 days to acquire 167 Washington-run state liquor stores. The auction concluded Friday evening, and the total bid amount came to $30.7 million.
That's what the state will reap as private operators start selling booze. The auctions are not for the stores, which the state was leasing. The auctions give winners only a right to sell liquor at the physical location of the state store.
The auction follows last fall's statewide approval of Initiative 1183, which takes the state out of the business of selling alcohol. The changes go into effect on June 1.
The first-time-ever auction attracted 551 bidders who cast more than 14,620 bids — including one worth $4.6 million for all 167 stores. That bid was not successful.
The single largest bid was $750,000 for a store in Tacoma, followed by $500,100 for a store in Seattle.
While opponents are still legally challenging the validity of Initiative 1183, which privatized liquor sales in Washington, you can start looking at ways to bid on 167 state- run stores that will be sold off this year.
The initiative will allow private companies to sell spirits starting June 1.
In the meantime, the state liquor control board has a website devoted to the whole bidding process, which started this week. Minimum bids will be $1,000 per store.
Successful bidders will have the exclusive right to sell spirits at 167 locations less than the 10,000 square feet threshold established by Initiative 1183.
There's a FAQ here to explain the ins and outs of the process.
The online auction closes April 20, 2012. Announcement of winning bidder(s) is tentatively scheduled for April 30, 2012.
OLYMPIA – It’s apparently all in, or all out, for Washington state’s involvement in the liquor business.
After studying two proposals to take over the state’s liquor distribution system, the Office of Financial Management is calling for a pass on both. Voters could still order that system sold, and remove the state’s involvement in wholesale and retail liquor sales, by passing Initiative 1183.
If that measure fails, the system stays as is, at least for a while.
In a letter Wednesday to the Liquor Control Board, OFM Director Marty Brown said the two proposals from private companies to take over the liquor warehousing system "do not represent ‘net positive benefit’ to the state or local governments." Because of that, OFM officials say, state law doesn’t allow the board to accept either proposal….
OLYMPIA — After studying two proposals for taking over the state's liquor distribution system, the state Office of Financial Management is calling for a pass on both.
In a letter to the Liquor Control Board, OFM Director Marty Brown says the proposal's "do not represent 'net positive benefit' to the state or local governments."
Selling the state's liquor warehouse has been a popular proposal in the Legislature, where many members believe the state has no business in the liquor business. Some budget proposals in the last session counted on revenue from the sale of the warehouse to help close the gap between expected revenues and scheduled expenses, but critics questioned whether the revenue estimates were realistic.
Opposition to state control of liquor has generated three ballot initiatives in the last two years, the most recent being Initiative 1183 on the Nov. 8 ballot and would get the state out of the wholesale and retail end of liquor sales
Before I-1183 was filed, the Legislature passed a law requiring a study of the possible financial benefits of selling or leasing the state's warehouse and distribution system, while maintaining its retail stores. Companies were invited to submit bids, and OFM was directed to examine them and make a recommendation to the Liquor Control Board, which has ultimate authority over the state's booze business.
Only two companies bid. . .
OLYMPIA — Washington would go from having the second fewest liquor stores per capita to the fifth fewest if voters approver a ballot measure this fall, a new study concludes.
Initiative 1183 would likely result in a four-fold increase in the number of retail liquor stores, the Office of Financial Management has said, and an increase of about 5 percent in total liquor sales. That would mean there'd be about one liquor store for every 4,709 persons, rather than one store for every 20,502 persons as it is now, the Washington Policy Center study concludes. That would be fewer stores per capita than any other western state.
"The bottom line is that the number of retail liquor stores would increase in Washington under I-1183 but this would not result in the state becoming the wild, wild west of liquor retail stores or sales," the center's Jason Mercier writes.
I-1183 is this year's attempt to end the state's monopoly control of distribution, wholesale and retail liquor operations. It is backed by Costco, Trader Joe's and Safeway, Inc. Unlike I-1100, which voters rejected last year, I-1183 sets minimum size requirements for retail liquor stores that in many communities would confine sales to supermarkets, discount stores and other larger retail outlets and exclude mini-marts.
Washington is currently second only to Utah among 11 western states in terms of liquor stores per capita. Idaho, which also has state controled liquor stores, is fifth. It has 163 stores, but spread over its population that's one store for every 9,600 Idahoans.
OFM estimates the number of liquor stores in Washington would jump from the current level of 328 to 1,428 if I-1183 passes.. Sales would also go up slightly, based on the experience of Alberta, Canada, when that province ended its monopoly.
But Washington would have fewer stores per capita than Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado or Hawaii — other western states that don't have state-run liquor stores, the policy center concludes.
OLYMPIA – Washington officials are trying to come up with a way to decide whether it makes good economic sense to let someone else run wholesale liquor operations in the state.
About the time they’re ready to make that decision, the voters might take it out of their hands, and turn all liquor operations – wholesale, distribution and retail sales – over to private businesses.
But if voters reject Initiative 1183 in November, the state could still turn its warehousing and distribution system over to the highest bidder next year. Then the question becomes, how do state officials decide the best deal for the state?
A special committee formed by the Legislature wrestled with a way to answer that question Tuesday ….
OLYMPIA — An initiative to turn wholesale and retail liquor sales over to the private sector qualified for the ballot, state elections officials said Wednesday.
Initiative 1183, sometimes called the Costco initiative because the discount retailer is among its most ardent supporters, passed a random check of its petitions, David Ammons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed said.
It joins I-1125, which would limit tolls and fees on roads, bridges and ferries. Elections officials begin a spot check of petitions Thursday on a third initiative, I-1163 which would require training and background checks for home health care workers.
All three initiatives submitted enough signatures that they were likely to qualify for the ballot.