Olympia distributors seek delay of single-serve ban

Staff writerMay 17, 2013 

The Washington Beer & Wine Distributors Association is asking the city of Olympia to hold off on pursuing a mandatory ban on certain single-serve alcohol drinks and allow local distributors to voluntarily stop distributing the adult beverages.

But City Council members are wary of the idea after an unsuccessful ban on 63 brands of single-serve, high-alcohol products last year. The council voted in December to seek a mandatory ban within what’s called an Alcohol Impact Area in an attempt to reduce public inebriation and related issues, such as fights and public urination.

The city is asking the state Liquor Control Board to institute a ban on “off-premises” sales — stores that sell alcohol to be consumed elsewhere, not in bars. The state, which has final say, has yet to rule on the request.

But Michael Transue, a representative of the distributors association, asked the City Council on Tuesday to instead allow the distributors and retailers to reach an agreement not to serve such beverages. According to a draft agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Olympian, the distributors involved are Columbia Distributing Co., Marine View Beverage. and Olympic Eagle Distributing. Transue said those are the three primary distributors in Olympia.

The agreement would ban single sales of “identified products” from 6 a.m.-1 p.m., but allow sales of four-packs or larger packages at all hours. In addition, it would allow any party to the agreement to withdraw with 30 days’ notice.

“We believe peer-to-peer discussions between the distributors and the retailers is a far better way of achieving compliance with particular regulations than an ordinance or the hand of government, if you will, creating product restrictions and restriction brands,” he said.

Transue said a voluntary program could be instituted citywide, not just in the area the city is pursuing for restrictions.

Olympia’s proposed ban, which the Liquor Control Board must approve, would cover most of downtown, from the isthmus to the west, Eastside Street to the east, Market Street to the north, and 14th Avenue to the south.

Council members had mixed reactions to the voluntary ban proposal.

“I think that’s substantially different from what we’re pursuing,” said Councilman Nathaniel Jones, noting that the proposed voluntary ban would apply only at certain times.

Councilman Steve Langer told Transue, “I would be more than happy to speak with you about this” but “I’m not sure that we are at that point any more where we are considering a voluntary action versus one that is mandatory.”

Councilman Jim Cooper said he is “interested in learning more” but that the proposal is coming late in the process.

Councilwoman Karen Rogers said she’s receptive to the voluntary ban. “If there is a way for you to do that, that would be fantastic.” But she said she would like to see some evidence that such bans have worked elsewhere.

Olympia tried a voluntary ban last year, but only three out of eight businesses complied: the Hulbert 76 Station, Bayview Thriftway and T Brothers Liquor Lodge, the former state liquor store. Those that haven’t: Lucky Seven, Fourth Avenue Food Mart, the Shell station at State Avenue and Plum Street, Capitol Lake Grocery, and Washington Street Market.

Four store owners spoke out against the ban in interviews with The Olympian last year. The city came up with a list of 63 beverages to ban after examining litter and finding that 80 percent of the cans are on the list.

The Liquor Control Board required the city to try a voluntary ban and prove that it failed before seeking a mandatory ban.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869

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