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Mar 04

Fair market doesn’t exist for Specialty Beer/Wine Stores in Washington State

URGENT! Washington State women-owned small businesses need your help

Two years ago, Washington voters approved a Costco liquor initiative that promised cheaper booze and greater convenience. Voters have now discovered what they really got — higher prices. But that’s not all they got. The Costco initiative broke out the welcoming mat to corporate America and stacked the deck against small business.

Only stores over 10,000 square feet are allowed to sell hard liquor. Box-store giants like Costco, Total Wine & More and BevMo have stores starting at 50,000 square feet. But where does that leave small-business owners like Tiffany Adamowski, owner of 99 Bottles located in Federal Way? The answer: boxed out.

Senate Bill 5731, which is currently in the Washington State House of Representatives, aims to give women like Adamowski a fighting chance.

“The bill would let me sell hard liquor made by small distillers, mostly craft distillers,” said Adamowski. “It doesn’t let me sell Jose Cuervo, Stolichnaya or other big brand names, so Costco would still have a huge competitive advantage. But the bill makes progress toward leveling the playing field.”

SB 5731 also helps other small business owners. In 2014, fifty new craft distilleries are expected to open in Washington State, but the number of expert alcohol sellers willing to carry their products is slim. SB 5731 creates much-needed shelf space for these craft producers.

Opponents of SB 5731 argue that it is unsafe to allow more hard-liquor outlets. Proponents of the bill disagree, pointing out they are the safest liquor retailers and that only existing true specialty shops would qualify under the bill.

“My shop is set up to sell liquor safely,” said Allison Helfen, owner of The Wine Alley located in Kent. “Kids never come into my store, and I don’t have shoplifting problems. Compare that to Fred Meyer. They leave Jack Daniels in open aisles where kids can easily get to it. If lawmakers are really concerned about public safety, then they should have shops like mine do all the liquor sales.”

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill, 43-4. But once the bill reached the House, it stalled in committee. According to some committee members, the bill was not ‘prime time’ and lacked support.

Beer/wine specialty shops, craft distillers, small family wineries, and craft brewers have all gotten behind the bill. The only people who opposed the bill are those who purchased former state liquor stores.

“I know many shop owners who have gone out of business since the Costco initiative,’ said Erika Cowan, owner of Full Throttle Bottles in Seattle. “How many more shops have to go out of business before we are ‘prime time’ enough?”

“We can’t continue being Costco’s punching bag,” said Adamowski. “If the Legislature doesn’t pass 5731 this session, I — and many others I know — will be out of business by the end of the year.”

To support small business, please contact Washington State Speaker Frank Chopp and urge him to pass SB 5731. You can contact him at 360-786-7920 or frank.chopp@leg.wa.gov.

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