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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

I-1183: More stores, less variety?

One angle of Initiative 1183 that has not been the subject of millions of dollars worth of commercials for and against is choice – as in will my choice of liquor be better or worse if the measure passes?

With campaigns arguing over whether people will or won’t drink significantly more liquor, get into significantly more traffic accidents and have significantly more problems with alcohol abuse, it’s probably not surprising that neither side has the campaign equivalent of “Dos Equis Guy” saying “I don’t always drink single malt 20-year-old scotch, but when I do, I like shopping at Washington State liquor stores.”

But selection is likely to change, at least initially...

...if the measure passes, according to the Marc Bernhard of Pacific Distillery. And not for the better, he contends.
Right now, a state liquor store has about 1,100 different brands of liquor on its shelves. The new premiere store in West Seattle has about 2,000. It’s a lot of selection, but that’s basically all they sell, so what else are they going to put on the shelves.
Bernhard argues that if I-1183 passes, the state liquor stores will close and Costco and some big supermarket chains like Safeway are likely to stock liquor fairly quickly. But they can’t devote anywhere near that much shelf space to liquor. They’ll stock some big-selling brands and specials, but finding that out-of-the-mainstream bottle will be difficult.
This has the Washington Distiller’s Guild – which represents the state’s nascent craft distilling industry – worried. Much of what they produce is on the high side as far as cost as well as quality. They don’t have an elaborate distribution system – for most, their sales are in house and sales to the state, which moves them in stores around Washington where word of mouth or customer curiosity may generate some sales from Aberdeen to Zillah.
“For many of us who own and work in Washington state distilleries, I-1183 is a death sentence,” Bernhard contends. He posted an analysis of the initiative from the craft distiller’s perspective at the industry web site.
Supporters of I-1183 say there’s no sure way to know what will happen to selection if the ballot measure passes. Liquor stores will respond to the marketplace. Some stores will have more limited selection, other specialty stores will spring up and some large warehouse stores that operate profitably in other states and have large selections, could also set up shop in Washington.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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