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Why spirits bill could lead to numerous new liquor stores in Washington

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There’s a bill working its way through Olympia that would address what seems like a monopoly on selling liquor in Washington State, House bill 2204. In 2011, we closed the state liquor stores in Washington state and let private businesses sell alcohol. It came out of Initiative 1183, but some big corporations, like Costco and some chain grocery stores, seemed to get a bigger benefit out of the initiative because in order to sell spirits, you need to be over 10,000 square feet.

A new bill would actually let smaller businesses sell spirits. John Guadnola is with the Association of Washington Spirits and Wine Distributors, and joined the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to discuss the bill’s implications.

“Costco wrote the initiative and they included the 10,000 square feet. They did it ostensibly for public safety purposes, but really to limit competition. So the smaller stores simply have been unable to sell spirits. Now they do have the right to sell beer and wine. We have heard from our customers — the small stores — and we’ve heard from consumers that they think this is really unfair and really inconvenient,” he said.

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“So this bill would would allow anyone who has had a beer and wine license for three years, and who has had no public safety violations — being no sales to minors — during the three years to apply for this kind of a license to sell spirits. We’ve heard a lot about people who say, ‘You know, if I need a bottle of vodka because I’m having company over and I also need a little bread and a carton of milk, I’m probably going to go to the five or six miles to Safeway to buy all three, instead of going half a mile to a more convenient local store.”

This has caused an imbalance for the smaller businesses out there that are losing money essentially because they’re not able to sell all three items at the same time. Guadnola says that at the moment the bill appears to be getting bipartisan support, and he hasn’t seen pressure from Costco yet.

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“Well, interestingly, they spent $20 million to finance the initiative, the second one which passed. They have not been visible as far as I know in Olympia on this issue. The opposition has been primarily from the people who still own the small stores who claim — mistakenly, in my view — that they bought some exclusive right to be the only people selling in stores less than 10,000 square feet,” he said. “But it’s gotten bipartisan support.”

Last week, the bill passed out of the House, Commerce and Gaming Committee on a 10-1 vote.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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