Lawmakers fail to pass bill to let small wine and beer shops sell liquor

KIRO-TVMarch 5, 2014 

A security mirror reflects the image of a patron choosing liquor at the Bayview Thriftway in Olympia. Management reconfigured access to help prevent theft.

STAFF FILE PHOTO, 2012

A bill that would have allowed small, specialty wine and beer shops to sell craft liquors failed in a House committee. The law privatizing liquor sales only allows for hard liquor to be sold in stores larger than 10,000 square feet.

Senate Bill 5731 proposed letting small, beer and wine specialty shop license holders sell products from distilleries producing less than 60,000 gallons of spirits a year. The bill passed in the Senate this year, but stalled when it reached the House Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight last week.

The committee chair, Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, told KIRO 7 the committee heard from people who run former state liquor stores. Between 100 and 200 of those stores remain, and those business owners told lawmakers letting other small shops sell liquor would put them out of business.

Hurst also said voters only approved liquor sales at large retailers, like Costco, Safeway or BevMo! because they did not want liquor sold at every corner shop. Some argued having liquor at smaller shops would make it easy for minors to access it. Hurst added these 1,200 specialty stores around the state never sold hard liquor before and always competed against bigger stores in the sale of beer and wine.

However, owners of stores like 99 Bottles in Federal Way, said the law prevents them from having an even playing field.

“I don’t have any means for diversifying, yet I know there are 50 new distilleries opening in Washington state. And they’re not going to find [space to sell their products] at the grocery store. But they’ll find that with me,” said Tiffany Adamowski.

Adamowski opened 99 Bottles seven years ago. Since liquor was privatized, she has noticed more people buying beer from large stores that also sell liquor, like QFC or Wine World. Her business decreased by 14 percent last year. She fears she could go out of business without some way of expanding what she can sell.

“We want to sell; be a retail shop. We want to be supplying high end, craft and local products to people who appreciate those things,” she said.

Makers of craft liquors in the Seattle area also wish they could sell in shops like hers.

“It’s kind of a kick in the shins I think, for the folks that have had the most practice [selling alcohol],” said Ben Capdevielle of Captive Spirits in Ballard.

Capdevielle said his distillery is fortunate in finally being able to sell in large stores. But he said every local distillery goes through the same rough beginning, of trying to get their products on any store shelf.

Jason Parker’s distillery, Copperworks, is barely 5 months old. Parker is still making hand deliveries to bars and restaurants buying his gin and vodka. Parker said the goal is to get his products onto the shelves of former state liquor stores. But even then, some stores who already carry gin from a local distillery, he said, are hesitant to take on another. Getting into large retail stores is even harder. Parker said they might order one bottle at a time.

“If it moves, they’ll order two bottles. If that moves, they’ll order four,” he said.

For that reason, he and other local distillers are eager to also sell in specialty wine and beer shops, where staff members tend to have expertise in the industry. As for the fear of having liquor go into their wrong hands, Ben Capdevielle said the small shops have been selling liquor safely long before any big box retailers got into the business.

“The specialty stores were the best at that. So they should have the opportunity to sell it,” Capdevielle said.

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