Liquor Board votes to allow more small stores to sell hard liquor

jordan.schrader@thenewstribune.comMay 9, 2013 

In this Nov. 2011 file photo, store employee Cathey Gormsen rearranges bottles at a Washington State Liquor store in Kennewick. Washington voters have since approved a plan to privatize liquor sales and dismantle controls that had been in place since Prohibition.

You shouldn’t have to drive more than 20 miles to buy your whiskey and gin.

That’s the idea driving the state Liquor Control Board to let a few more small stores sell hard liquor under the voter-approved privatization scheme that limited most sales to stores 10,000 square feet and bigger.

The state’s three-member Liquor Control Board proposed the exception in March and widened it slightly Wednesday, moving unanimously to also allow small stores on islands not accessible by roads and stores run by an Indian tribe on tribal land.

The board staff said requests for the changes came from potential sellers in the San Juan Islands’ Roche Harbor and the Samish Indian Nation in northwestern Washington.

Initiative 1183 called for small stores in “trade areas” that lack liquor. The board opted to define that narrowly – estimating that likely fewer than 20 stores would qualify, mostly in sparsely populated parts of Eastern Washington.

Those are in addition to former state liquor stores and contract stores, grandfathered in by the initiative and not restricted by the buffer zone.

The newly authorized stores would not be allowed to open within 20 miles of any former state store whose rights have been sold at auction to a private operator, even if the store isn’t currently open — an addition made Wednesday to satisfy rights holders.

Because of the changes, the process of collecting public comment has to essentially start over, including a June 26 public hearing and final approval July 3 or later.

Some stores will be disappointed. A lobbyist for small groceries, Jan Gee, said she asked the board to write a rule that takes population density into account, allowing a store to sell liquor in a community surrounded by a rural area.

“If you’re in a population (center) and you do your shopping in that community, why should you have to drive 20 miles to get liquor?” Gee said.

Board director Pat Kohler said there’s plenty of liquor available. The number of stores selling spirits more than quadrupled after privatization, to some 1,400 locations.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 @Jordan_Schrader

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