The shelves have been set up, the pallets of stock have begun to arrive, the ads are in place, and most of the bigger grocery stores in the Harbor will begin offering hard liquor as of 6 a.m. Friday.
No one is certain what the market for hard liquor stores in grocery stores will be, or what the customer base will do for business, but the stores are hoping the transition will go smoothly as the state effectively gets out of the liquor sales business at the end of business on May 31.
“We will have a full selection and we have a big designated area ready to go,” said D. J. Halverson, assistant store manager at the Aberdeen Safeway.
“There is a plan in place to make sure everything is out and we’ll all be tagged and ready to rock ’n’ roll by 6 a.m. on the first,” Halverson said.
Safeway, TOP Foods and Walmart have all started to receive some stock, and Swanson’s also hopes to have hard liquor available by Friday, too. The IGA store in Ocean Shores remodeled last week to handle hard liquor sales.
“We’re still receiving loads from our distributors this week, so I’m not really sure what I’m going to have,” said Vince Ianniciello, store manager at the IGA. Even though the Ocean Shores state liquor store was auctioned last week, staff there said they knew of no plans for the new owner to operate by Friday.
The IGA store rearranged its wine racks and added shelves to handle what Ianniciello hopes to be a full array of new products.
“It’s an avenue that we have never been down before,” he said. “I think any retailer will tell you it’s going to be hard to determine what it’s going to be like and what’s going to happen. It’s the weekly taking-care-of business that will be interesting for all us retailers to see; what the selection will be, what the customer is looking for. I think everybody is going to need some patience as we head out the gate.”
Currently, there appears to be no plan to keep the Aberdeen state liquor store at 216 W. Heron Street open after Thursday night, said store manager Barb Sumner. The remaining stock will be boxed up for auction.
“All of the employees in Aberdeen will be looking for new jobs,” Sumner said.
The Quinault Indian Nation’s Enterprises Board had the winning bid of $95,200 in April to purchase the liquor store license in Aberdeen.
Successful bidders won the exclusive right to operate a liquor store at the location of the state-run store on which they bid. Because the state does not own the properties, the bidders still must negotiate a lease, acquire a liquor license and stock their stores. The license is guaranteed under the initiative if they keep the store in the same location. Another option is moving the store within a mile radius of the current store, but moving could open the store up to challenges.
Myrna Figg, the CEO for the Quinault’s Enterprise Board, said the Quinaults were unable to work out a lease agreement at the current liquor store’s location. She didn’t have any other comments.
The Quinaults have also applied for a liquor license to sell wine and beer at a planned convenience store and tobacco outlet on Indian Trust land on Market Street near the Wishkah River. Whether the Quinaults will seek to move the liquor store to that location is unknown.
Sumner said she also has not been contacted by the tribe about its intent in taking over the store’s license.
There also is a big question in Ocean Shores about whether the former state liquor store next door to the IGA will be able to renew its lease or will try to relocate within a mile of the former facility, at 171 E Chance A La Mer NE.
While an Indiana man won the top bid to take over the store – at an auction price last week of $275,000 – the current employees there say they have no idea whether the store will even be open after Friday.
Patty Maki has worked for the state at the Ocean Shores store for the past 25 years and said she plans to take a long vacation starting Friday.
She has not heard if the new owner plans to retain employees or even keep the store running right away.
“I’m going to take the summer off. I don’t know if I want to get back in this game again,” she said.
The Ocean Shores store still has its shelves stocked, but Maki said the supply is dwindling. “There’s a lot of good scotch left,” she said. “That’s the only thing that’s not really flying out of here.”
The only contact she has had with the new owner is a real estate representative who dropped off a business card.
“I don’t know if he’s going to open in this spot or if he’s going to wait. All I know is I’m here to the 31st,” she said.
The Hoquiam store, at 817 Simpson Ave., is privately owned already, and it will stay open and continue operating as a private liquor store. It was closed the past few days for inventory, but will be reopening on June 1.
Sumner, who has been working for the state Liquor Control Board for 27 years, starting her career in Aberdeen, said the Aberdeen store would stay open until 9 p.m. Thursday before closing for good.
“All of the remaining stock is part of a buy-back agreement. My stock will be boxed up and sent back to the distribution center for auction,” she said. “To the best of my knowledge, nobody has approached the Liquor Board to purchase the materials.”
Sumner described the feeling of closing down the store with its three employees as being “shell-shocked.”
“The hardest part is listening to the customers’ questions and hearing their sympathies,” she said. “We all don’t know what we’re going to do next and we have all been at it for quite some time.”
While Safeway and Walmart have had experience with selling hard liquor in other states, there are still many questions about supply and demand locally. Safeway even will offer a discount brand of its own, Halverson said.
Statewide, more than 1,000 businesses, including Walmart and large beverage retailer BevMo!, have applied to begin selling liquor in their stores since voters approved Initiative 1183 in the fall.
Swanson’s, one of the last to obtain licenses, still isn’t sure what hard liquor products it will carry, but Mark Swanson said he believes his stores in South Aberdeen and Hoquiam will both be selling some hard liquor Friday morning, too.
“We’ll carry what people request, but it will probably be a while before we get it all figured out,” Swanson said, noting he still doesn’t yet have any stock at the store. He will be using the same distributor that supplied beer and wine to his two stores.
At Top Foods, manager Lillian Hett said the company has provided a plan for what it expects to stock and sell, and the store already has made room for the new fare.
“The company has a range for small stores and large stores as to how much they hope to sell per week,” she said. “They are planning on a 2-to-3 percent boost in sales.”
Hett said the biggest issue has been that “booze distributors are just overwhelmed.”
After sales start, however, she noted the biggest issue might be the taxes that will apply, including a “litter tax” of $3.77 per bottle.
“The price point will be the base price on the shelves, and the taxes are added on at point of sale,” she said. Top Foods will have signs that warn customers of the new taxes and that taxes are not included in the shelf price.
“It just depends on what and how much you are buying. You could pay $8 or $9 tax by the time it’s done,” she said. “Our first ad (for liquor sales) breaks this week and it has liquor in it. The prices look really good but you have to add the taxes on it, too.”
Sumner notes she has seen an analysis that shows the new taxes imposed as a result of Initiative 1183 will amount to a $2.90 increase on a fifth of every hard liquor bottle purchased in the state.
“It was quite a jump,” she said.
On the Harbor, Rite Aid stores in Aberdeen and Hoquiam also have joined area grocery stores in applying for a retail spirits license. Other grocery stores with licenses: Pick-Rite Thriftway in Montesano, Everybody’s in Elma, Ted’s Red Apple in Westport and D&K Grocery in Pacific Beach.
In Pacific County, Everybody’s in Raymond has applied, as has Jack’s Country Store and Okie’s Thriftway, both in Ocean Park; and Sid’s Super Market in Seaview.
Each store must have at least 10,000 square feet of fully enclosed retail space, including storerooms and other auxiliary areas. The employer must also be able to provide employee training, have employee supervision and physical security to protect the product.
Brian Smith, state Liquor Control Board communications director, said it’s up to the new owners who received the licenses at auction to come up with their own leases and run their businesses on their own from Friday on.
“It depends on your business model,” he said. “We’re seeing all sorts of business models … . If you’re a small store and want to carry a lot of those speciality items that might not be available at the chain store, then it could be good.”