Seattle Kitchen: Jury is still out on privatizing liquor saleson June 22, 2012 @ 9:09 am (Updated: 8:29 pm - 6/22/12 )
Starting on June 1, liquor sales in Washington were handed over from the state to private businesses. What has that done to the bottom line at restaurants? (AP Photo/file)
At the beginning of this month, liquor sales were handed over from the state to private businesses. As restaurant owners, Seattle Kitchen Show hosts Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautureau, say they're still keeping an eye on how the switch will impact their bottom line.
"It's a little bit of a transition time. I think a little bit more time under the belt will tell us what the outcome is," says Rautureau.
One thing he noticed right off the bat though was a few more lines on his liquor invoices.
"At first it was scary because it starts with a number, and then there's two more numbers added to it," says Rautureau. "Then on the bottom, you're like 'holy cow.'"
The initiative imposed an additional 10 percent distributor fee and a 17 percent retail fee on spirits to reimburse the state for millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Even though he had sticker shock at first, Rautureau says when he compares his price per ounce now to what he paid when purchasing liquor from the state, it's actually not that far off.
"You go back to your old invoice and you go, 'oh no, it's the same thing it's just written differently,'" says Rautureau.
Co-host Tom Douglas says he enjoys seeing the state fees right out there in front of him.
"I think it's kind of interesting to see what the state is collecting. Because when you just pay $30 for a bottle of booze, you don't know the mix," says Douglas. "It gives me an idea of where the bottom line price is, and what's going to our state."
The state had controlled liquor sales in Washington since the time of Prohibition, and while Douglas says he has no problem with the state being responsible with enforcement of liquor licenses and regulations, he thinks voters approval of Initiative 1183, putting the sale of liquor back in the hands of private companies, was a good move.
"I'm thrilled of the change. It never made sense to me," says Douglas. "The idea that somehow or another only the state had the wherewithal to sell me a bottle of Jack Daniels always kind of rubbed me the wrong way because it just wasn't that way with anything else, not cigarettes, not wine, not beer. It was a nonsense."
Meanwhile, supporters of I-1183 have filed a lawsuit challenging the state's rules for implementing it, claiming that liquor regulators circumvented the measure by arbitrarily restricting wholesale distribution and pricing of wine and spirits.
The complaints do not directly relate to liquor prices for consumers, but instead center on Washington Liquor Control Board rules that restrict retail sales to restaurants and distributors' deliveries, among other things, and that plaintiffs contend benefit large, out-of-state distributors.
Initiative 1183, allows stores larger than 10,000 square feet and some smaller stores to sell spirits. The measure was the costliest in state history thanks to a $22 million investment from Costco.
Under the measure, no single sale from a retailer to a restaurant can exceed 24 liters. The Liquor Control Board interpreted that language as 24 liters per day, and the lawsuit challenges that ruling.
A coalition of initiative backers, including the Washington Restaurant Association, the Northwest Grocery Association and warehouse giant Costco Wholesale Corp., filed the lawsuit Thursday in Thurston County Superior Court.
The Liquor Control Board said in a statement that it was still reviewing the lawsuit. But it called the plaintiff's message "one-sided and inaccurate" and said the rules were adopted as the soundest legal interpretation.
By JAMIE GRISWOLD, MyNorthwest.com Editor
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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