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One vice is not like the other: Why private liquor sales have stayed flat

According to John Curley, just because it's more available doesn't mean people will buy more of it, let alone, drink more of it. (AP Photo/File)

You don’t need it, but sometimes when you’re in line at the grocery store, you’re tempted by the rows of candy bars and you give in. You buy a candy bar. But it’s just not the same with a bottle of booze.

When Washington voters decided to privatize liquor sales two years ago, part of the assumption was that liquor sales would spike because buying a bottle of whiskey would be easier than ever before. Even though there were some pretty steep taxes attached, with competition between grocery stores and specialty liquor stores, eventually the price of liquor would go down.

It didn’t – and part of the reason KIRO Radio’s John Curley thinks sales stayed flat, is that a bottle of booze isn’t the same as a Twix bar.

“I don’t think alcohol is like a candy purchase. It’s not like, ‘Hey, I’ll pick up a bottle vodka!’ There’s got to be more to it than that because of the effect of it.”

According to John, just because it’s more available doesn’t mean people will buy more of it, let alone, drink more of it.

You also don’t have to get that candy bar unlocked, points out co-host Tom Tangney, who thinks that additional deterrent could be getting in the way of higher sales.

But the difference, says John, “Is you drink half a thing of vodka. Then you pass out and later wake up in your own vomit. I’ve never had that happen with a candy bar.”

While falling prices might have meant Washington voters would have benefited, it’s possible that the state is going to come out on top regardless.

Says Tom, “(Higher prices) would have meant more money for liquor distributors and for the state, who weren’t running the liquor stores any longer, but were still bringing in a 17 percent tax on retail sales.”

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