Allow Beer & Wine Specialty shops to sell Washington craft spirits – SB 5731
Weekly I’m asked, by customers, “How has the privatization of liquor affected you?” My fellow specialty beer & wine store owners say they frequently hear the same question. Most of us are pretty open. One wine shop owner says they’re “hurting, looking at location lease-end dates, wondering about renegotiation to continue to struggle and possibly lose – vs. closing up shop.”
Big box liquor chains, grocery stores and independent liquor retailers have edged in.
A customer in a friend’s Specialty Wine/Beer Shop relays, “I only pickup everyday items at the (other business); I come to you for this (specialty item).” She continues, “It was like a tasting reunion in the aisle,” speaking about running into several other of your customers at that 10,000-square foot out-of-state-based superwarehouse. The now infrequent customer saw the look cross my friend’s face, and states again, “I only pickup everyday items at the (other business); I come to you for this (specialty item).” As a specialty beer/wine store owner, we already know this. But it’s not the occasional purchase from a customer that will keep your business operational, long term.
What makes a “specialty” beer/wine store?
In previous years, Specialty Wine/Beer Stores had clear differentiation from other Washington State Alcohol Licensees. As laws have changed (often with lobbyist input, something we specialty beer/wine store licensees cannot afford), there’s been a dilution of what it means to be a “specialty” shop.
Now there are grocery stores are offering samples; restaurants filling growlers; independent liquor stores selling kegs – growlers – specialty wine and beer; taverns selling beer/wine to-go.
Though operating under the same guidelines that indicate from whom we can source alcoholic products, multi-location large-footprint corporations do have advantages. For superwarehouse chains price breaks (though illegal) and designated shipments occur. We’ve even seen wineries and breweries drop their distributors, no longer accessible to specialty shops their products now direct-ship to warehouse stores.
So, what makes the “specialty” beer/wine store special?
Everyday items don’t make our businesses special, except to those who live locally. Our customers are telling us, “I only pickup everyday items at the (other business); I come to you for this (specialty item).”
Specialty items — this is what keeps our neighborhood Specialty Beer/Wine Stores alive. It is why customers visit. They look to us for affordable luxuries.
Those in opposition to SB 5371 (allowing beer and/or wine specialty shop licensees to sell craft distillery products) have clear reasons: WALSA is looking out for the interests of independent liquor retailers, many of whom have closed doors, unable to make a go of it — even with the opportunity to have the same legal rights as a specialty beer/wine store. A public safety group is concerned with underage drinking, but SB 5371 includes provisions that Washington craft distillery products only become available in specialty beer/wine stores — not small convenience shops where most underage purchases occur. Most specialty beer & wine stores in Washington are small. We know our customers by name. We know the styles they drink.
The specialty shop is about community. Many customers are our neighbors. We want to do right by them. We research and, if possible, special order products for our customers. Our goal is to serve, to supply them with that special beer, wine, hard cider, mead.
We also all receive daily requests for specialty and interesting spirits, for niche craft-distilled products. Since state stores have ceased, the selection offered at their independent liquor shop has diminished, yet they’re also not finding the products they seek at the grocery store. They want to support local business, they ask, “Where can I get it?” They are already looking to us for it.
For shops like Fremont Wine, their neighbors no longer have an independent liquor store. There simply wasn’t enough neighborhood support and extensive product line to support. The small local wine shop, also struggling, could likely remain a viable business if able to offer craft distilled spirits to their customers.
Washington’s specialty bottle shops are treading water in this economy. Things that once made us “specialty” have been diluted. Give these small business owners a fighting chance by allowing them to carry Washington craft distilled spirits.
Washington State Senators, please approve SB 5731.
In support of Washington SB 5731
To my friends, I ask for your support. As soon as possible, contact your Senator in support of SB 5731.
We need to send as many emails as possible to Senate committee members ASAP. Below are two emails to send out, as well as reasons to pass 5731. Pick the reasons that apply to you. And have others (friends, family, employees, business partners, customers, etc.) send emails, too.
Goal: 1,500 emails sent by Sunday night
Text: Dear Senator Holmquist Newbry, thank you for hearing SB 5731. I strongly support this bill, and would appreciate it if you would exec, and vote for, the bill. [REASONS/YOUR PERSONAL MESSAGE] Sincerely, [YOUR NAME, BUSINESS NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE]
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Text: Dear Senators Braun, Hasegawa, Hewitt and King, thank you for hearing SB 5731, the bill allowing beer and wine specialty shops to sell spirits made by small distillers. I strongly support this bill and would appreciate your vote in its favor. [REASONS/YOUR PERSONAL MESSAGE]. Sinerely, [YOUR NAME, BUSINESS NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE]
Email #3 (for the ambitious)
Send an email to your own representatives asking them to support SB 5731. If you don’t know who your representatives are, go to http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/ and enter your home address. If you already know who your reps are, you can find their email addresses by going to http://www.leg.wa.gov/senate/senators/Pages/default.aspx and clicking on the “E-Mail addresses” link on the right.
Reasons to approve SB 5371
- Staying in business. Business for specialty shops has been declining since I-1183 (privatization intiative) went into effect, as customers switch to 1-stop shopping. To retain their customers, specialty stores must be able to sell spirits, such as high-end brandy and dessert wines.
- Selection. Specialty shops sell products that other stores don’t. Restaurants also rely on specialty shops.
- Different markets. Former state stores mostly focus on the top 50-60 selling brands, which are produced by large, international corporations like Diageo. This leaves little–if any–shelf space for small, Washington distillers. SB 5731 provides a marketplace that is just for those small, Washington distillers.
- State revenue. Specialty shops will sell higher-priced spirits in keeping with their customer base. These more expensive products will bring in additional revenue for the state (through the 17% spirits sales tax).
- Customer service. Specialty shops provide excellent customer service, and are able to explain the products in depth and give recommendations. This is not something you get at Safeway, Costco or the former state liquor stores.
- Community. Specialty shops hold weekly tasting events. People learn about the products, but more than that, the events provide a sense of community as many people regularly attend the tastings.
- Promote Washington products. Specialty shops hold beer/wine classes where Washington products are promoted. SB 5731 opens that same opportunity for small, Washington distillers.
- Fairness. Many sectors within the liquor industry are in jeopardy following I-1183 (liquor privatization initiative): specialty shops, small distillers, craft distillers, small family wineries, importers, etc. Each one of these sectors has just as much right to stay in business as former state liquor stores do.
- Public safety. SB 5731 allows only true specialty shops to sell spirits. If you’re under 21 years old, you have no business going into these specialty shops. Unlike large stores, these specialty shops do not have self-checkout lines (which are unsafe), they do not have shoplifting problems, and they do not sell products favored by chronic public inebrients.
- Support small distillers. Small distillers are being pushed out of the market due to lack of shelf space. Under 5731, if a specialty shop wants to sell spirits, the spirits must be produced by small distillers. Washington is noted for its beer and wine industries. If our distillers show even half of the imagination and innovation as our brewers and vinters have, our state will very successful, too. The talent is here; we just have to nurture it.
- Support small family wineries. Similar to small distillers. If specialty shops close, they will lose shelf space.
- Tourism. People do not come to Washington to visit former state liquor stores. They come to Washington to visit our wineries, breweries, distilleries, and the specialty shops that carry Washington products.
- Who can realistically survive. Former state liquor stores compete first and foremost with large spirits retailers like Safeway and Costco. The problem is that former state liquor stores cannot win against these large retailers, and most will go out of business sooner rather than later. Specialty shops, on the other hand, cater to a different market and sell very different products than the large retailers to. If you give specialty shops the flexibility to sell spirits, they can survive and continue to support Washington beers, wines and spirits.