No liquor bailout

January 25, 2013 

It’s understandable that people who invested their life savings into liquor licenses for the former state-owned stores are seeking a lifeline from the Legislature.

The bidding frenzy that occurred last June as the state converted to privatization of liquor sales convinced many that this was a guaranteed once-in-a-lifetime, can’t-lose, get-rich-quick opportunity.

Except it wasn’t.

Less starry-eyed investors might have anticipated that a multi-million-dollar initiative funded almost entirely by Costco, and other large retailers, might create some rather stiff big-box competition.

The owners of about 80 of these small stores are now claiming unfair competition and want state lawmakers to change the rules, which they say put them at a distinct disadvantage.

No kidding, but didn’t they read the initiative? Didn’t they expect that every grocery store, every Walmart, Fred Meyer, Albertsons, Thriftway, Trader Joes and Safeway was going to start selling spirits? This initiative was written and sold to the public for the benefit of the big stores.

Opponents of privatization warned that the number of stores selling spirits would skyrocket, and it did. Access in Washington more than quadrupled, going from 362 liquor outlets to 1,500. Sales volume for the small stores was guaranteed to plummet.

Let’s face it, Initiative 1183 even snookered a lot of its supporters.

The public that voted to boot the state out of the liquor sales business naively expected lower prices. That didn’t happen either. The public has essentially lost choice in the variety of brands available and now is paying significantly more for the pleasure.

It’s a shame many small-store owners are losing money. The state Liquor Control Board says 15 former state stores and 11 contract stores have already closed. Each one is no doubt a personal tragedy.

But the Legislature cannot rescue everyone who makes a bad business decision.

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