The state has been out of the liquor business for just over three months. Sales are up 10-percent over the same three months last year, and consumers seem to be happy with the availability and the choices.
But you know who else is happy with private liquor sales? Criminals. Liquor theft is running rampant.
MyNorthwest.com has been after all the major chains and independent grocers for the last month trying to get some numbers on how much liquor they're losing.
They will not speak on the record with reporters saying sales numbers are private. They say their store security trumps our desire to know how bad the problem is.
One even admitted it didn't want to speak so the public wouldn't know how easy it is to steal liquor.
But one industry worker, who wishes to remain nameless, says it's out of control.
"The alcohol is going out the door faster than they can put it on the shelf," he said. "There's no concealing it. They're just filling carts up and walking out the door or filling baskets up and taking them out the door."
He's heard that several stores in our area have already lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of inventory.
Most of the thefts are typical shoplifts, like you'd see with any item. People grabbing a bottle or two and hiding it in a coat or a bag and clerks don't notice.
But there are now organized rings ripping off stores. They usually send one person in to distract a night shift clerk who is stocking shelves and then the rest of the crew goes straight to the liquor aisle and loads up.
Mill Creek Police just busted one of them. Alert clerks at the Safeway on 128th recognized them from information Safeway corporate had given employees.
"The store employees identified all three as having potentially put alcohol in their clothing," Mill Creek Officer Ian Durkee said. "When we searched them, we did find alcohol on their person and also observed a large amount of alcohol in the back of their car."
Durkee said they recovered about $3,000 in stolen liquor in the car, but he doesn't know if it all came from that one Safeway store.
So what are stores doing about it? They won't discuss their security measures, but Safeway did say it is assessing its plans and procedures.
With liquor theft on the rise, Sergeant West expects stores to make some changes.
"As time goes on," she said, "they're going to figure out that their losses are adding up, and they'll probably take some different measures to keep those items secure or at least from being stolen so easily."
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