The number of retailers wanting to sell hard liquor in Thurston County continues to grow, rising to 41 so far in April, up from 29 in February, according to state Liquor Control Board liquor license applications.
Elsewhere in the state those numbers are rising, too.
The number of Pierce County retailers has increased to 126, up from 93 in February, while statewide it has grown to 1,244, up from 857 in the same period, state Liquor Control Board data show. More than 1,400 retailers are expected to apply to sell hard liquor, the state Liquor Control Board has estimated.
Driving this growth has been the passage of Initiative 1183, which will put the state out of the liquor business and turn it over to the private sector. Stores that have applied to sell hard liquor in Thurston County include Walmart, Fred Meyer, Albertsons, Safeway, Costco – a big financial supporter of the initiative – Rite Aid, Target, Top Food & Drug, Walgreens, Winco, and the Bayview and Thriftway stores in Olympia.
Those that want to sell spirits can qualify in four areas: by operating a retail space of more than 10,000 square feet; purchasing a former state-run liquor store at auction; already operating a contract liquor store, which will be grandfathered in under the new rules; and a “trade area” designation that the Liquor Control Board will define after June 1.
The state currently operates 167 state-run liquor stores, including five in Thurston County.
Not every store wanting to sell spirits in the county has qualified.
Sinh Chau, the owner of Chau’s Audio & Video in west Olympia – a business that caters to the South Sound Vietnamese community – applied to sell hard liquor, only to realize that his business wasn’t big enough. The business measures about 1,200 square feet, Chau said. He applied in February, then withdrew his application last month, Liquor Control Board data show.
Still, those businesses that don’t qualify have the option of a liquor license application refund or waiting to see how the state defines “trade area” after June 1, spokesman Brian Smith said.
As it stands now, a business might qualify to sell hard liquor in a “trade area” that doesn’t already have a state-run liquor store, a contract liquor store or a big enough retailer, he said. The problem is the language of the initiative wasn’t clear on what exactly a “trade area” is, Smith said.
Meanwhile, an online auction of its existing state-run liquor stores is under way. Bidders can bid on individual stores or all 167 stores.
So far the top bidder for all the stores is someone named Richard Gates with a top bid of $555,100. The auction began March 7 and ends April 20. Although the online auction site is hosted by the state Department of Enterprise Services, it is privately run so the state is not disclosing auction bidder identities during the auction, Smith said.
The state-run liquor store in Lacey on Sleater-Kinney Road has so far attracted a top bid of $6,100 from someone going by the moniker singh1140. In Tacoma, a store at 3840 Pacific Avenue, has received a bid of $13,600 from someone named Michael253.
A bidders’ conference is set for Thursday morning in Seattle so the state can discuss auction conclusion details and answer questions, Smith said.
Gordon “Gordy” Boyd, who runs a contract liquor store in Lacey called Rainier Park Liquor and Beverage, plans to stay in business and sell hard liquor after June 1. He opened the store in October 2009. Although stores around him, such as a QFC in Lacey also will be selling hard liquor after June 1, he said he offers variety and merchandise that is competitively priced. He also said his customers have pledged their support. Boyd, too, is proud that his business has never been cited for a liquor violation by the Liquor Control Board or the Lacey Police Department.
“We do well here,” he said.