This was the first day grocery stores in Washington state were able to sell hard liquor, such as rum, whiskey and tequila, and in the brand new spirts aisle at Safeway in Aberdeen, curious shoppers were stopping by this morning to see what all the fuss was about.
There weren’t that many buyers at 8 a.m., many preferring to check out the selection and compare prices from what they were used to paying across the street at the now-closed state-run liquor store.
One confusing element to most of the shoppers is that the price shown on the shelf would not be the price they actually paid.
“I’ve always bought the half-gallon Black Velvet, so let’s go see what the real price I’d pay is,” said an Aberdeen man, who asked not to be identified.
A checker scanned the booze and brought up the screen. Black Velvet Canadian Whiskey sells at Safeway for $20.99. But it’s on sale with the store’s special “club card” for $15.09. After taxes and fees, the bottle came up to $24.78. Those fees include a special liquor tax of $3.77 per liter, which works out to $6.60 on the 1.75 liter bottle. The sales tax is 20.5 percent, which worked out to $3.09.
Yet, at $24.78, the Aberdeen man said he still felt like he was saving “maybe one or two dollars compared to the old price.”
An online price calculator created by The News Tribune of Tacoma shows that the same bottle of booze went for $26.45 at the state-run liquor store, which means buying the bottle at Safeway at the sale price is $1.67 cheaper than what the man used to pay.
“But those taxes”
“But those taxes,” he said. “They add up fast and there’s nothing here to tell me how much the final cost will be.”
There may not ha ve been a billboard on the aisle, but Safeway kept a staff person there during the morning, who was consistently asked questions.
For instance, the store will carry its own private label “Safeway Selects” stock. It just hasn’t arrived yet. Expect those prices to be lower than the brand name spirits. And there are no plans to carry the tiny liquor bottles you’d typically see on airplanes that were previously sold at the liquor store.
Safeway used its shorter aisle on both sides near its bakery and deli to carry an array of liquor. Wine was located near it. There were also displays of booze at the front of the store.
One man came into Safeway this morning for a completely different reason: looking for the free liquor boxes that the state-run store used to give away for free. But there were no boxes to be had and he went off looking elsewhere.
Friday was a day of celebration for retailers, who have been clamoring to sell spirits for years. The Costco-backed Initiative 1183, approved last fall, dismantled the state-run liquor system.
In Seattle, there were even grocery stores that opened at midnight to sell the booze.
Liquor is now available to any store over 10,000 square feet in size, that applied for a special spirits license from the state.
The old state-run liquor stores were auctioned off. The Quinault Indian Nation purchased the Aberdeen store, but were unable to come to an agreement with the landlord. They’ll have the option of moving the license within a one-mile radius of the old store. The status of the Ocean Shores liquor store is unclear, although it closed yesterday.
The old contract-run liquor stores were also able to stay open, even if they were of a smaller size. The initiative also allows “trade areas” without liquor stores to apply for a spirits license. However, exactly what a trade area is has not been identified yet and will be up to the state Liquor Control Board to figure out. For instance, Cosmopolis and Oakville have no liquor store. Could local mini marts apply for a spirits license to sell it there?
A list of liquor licenses with the state Liquor Control Board shows that Maxi Mini Mart in Cosmopolis applied for a spirits license. Also applying for a license is the Singh Liquor Store at 102 W. Wishkah in Aberdeen.
In the Aberdeen-Hoquiam area, those selling liquor include the old contract-liquor store in Hoquiam, both of the Swanson’s, Walmart, TOP Foods, both Rite-Aids and Safeway. Also signed up for a liquor license to sell spirits, per a May 29 list provided by the state Liquor Control Board: the IGA at Ocean Shores, D&K Grocery at Pacific Beach, the McCleary Liquor Store at McCleary, Everybody’s at Elma, Pick-Rite Thriftway at Montesano, Ruby’s Wine, Spirits and Country Emporium at Amanda Park; Ted’s Red Apple at Westport, Westport Liquor at Westport.