An open letter to the Government Accountability & Oversight Committee
Dear Representatives and Members of the House Government Accountability & Oversight Committee,
Two years ago the Washington State Liquor Board sold a bum lot of stores to many first generation Americans, giving them hope that jumping into the liquor business would fulfill their business dreams.
But what’s happened since then?
More than 60% of the former state-run liquor stores have gone out of business.
Without the understanding of how to operate a small specialty alcohol business, and with high licensing fees, the remaining liquor stores are now targeting other small Washington businesses, and yesterday at the Government Accountability & Oversight Public Hearing it was clear they won over Representative Hurst and other members.
Home-grown specialty beer/wine stores have also been suffering inequalities, with the inability to fairly compete against the corporatization of Washington’s liquor sales. BevMo and Total Wine & More corporations have entered the state in full-force, targeting neighborhood small business; Total Wine even ran radio ad campaigns painting small wine shop owners as “snobs.”
But we specialty beer/wine store owners aren’t snobs.
We don’t have an advantage over small liquor stores.
Like the small liquor store owners, we have mortgaged our houses and hedged our bets on selling a State and Federally regulated product. Like the former Contract Liquor Store owners, we didn’t have the ability to predict the future — a future where the State was no longer in the business of selling alcohol, a future where Washington State voters would choose to replace State control with privatization, which has ultimately become corporatization.
What has happened since the privatization/corporatization has been a threat not just to the former state stores, but also to neighborhood specialty beer/wine stores.
Our goal is to operate sustainable businesses, to share our passion of our products with our customers.
Like small liquor stores, we are trying to keep our businesses IN business.
All we are asking for is an equal chance.
Instead of targeting other small businesses, the Government Accountability & Oversight Committee and fellow small business owners (liquor stores) should be LOOKING OUT FOR ALL SMALL BUSINESSES.
Yesterday I attended and testified at my first legislative session. I felt my business deflated, devalued, and that my very own Constituent, Representative Hurst, didn’t have the back of my small business as he announced that SSB 5731 wasn’t “prime time.” What will make it prime time? My business closing? The loss of my property that secured loans to open my business? What makes one small business owner more important than another?
Our bill, Senate Bill 5731 would allow Specialty Beer/Wine Stores to carry specialty craft distilled spirits.
That is, it would allow Washington business to provide Washington product to Washington consumers.
During the public testimony, it was clear that the owners of the auctioned liquor stores and former contract stores gave sway to the committee. I also felt compassion and sympathy for their situation, but please rest assured that this bill, SSB 5731, does not pit small business vs. small business.
As a specialty alcohol retailer, we are passionate and knowledgeable about our product, we have a unique selection of beer not found in box stores or liquor stores — and our focus on craft spirits would be working with small distilleries not offered by the corporate chains. As many of these tiny craft distilleries have not been pursued by former state liquor stores, we would not be taking away any of their customers or profits in this area.
As a specialty beer/wine store, we appeal to a different customer base than that of auctioned liquor stores. We treat our customers like family — many regulars comment, “It’s like Cheers!” (TV show) “Where everyone knows your name.” If our store didn’t exist, our customers would likely seek their specialty beers from taverns with off-premise sales endorsements or big box chains such as BevMo and Total Wine & More.
So, I ask you, members of the Accountability & Oversight Committee, why does my investment count less? Why is my small business less important?
You are going out of your way to help people who were misled into a losing situation. While I totally feel for them, I can’t help but think about my mentors.
Ric & Diann, owners of Corky Cellars, our mentors and inspiration.
After privatization, their auctioned neighborhood liquor store closed. Many of their customers began to drive outside the neighborhood for liquor, to Total Wine & More and BevMo, making a single stop they didn’t return as frequently to their local specialty wine store. Sales decreased.
Senator Keiser knew the value of the neighborhood shop. She loved supporting small business, and knew that many of her neighbors also would prefer to buy both their specialty spirits and wine from Corky Cellars. Last year she sponsored the bill to allow specialty beer/wine stores to sell craft spirits. Last year it stopped in the House. Again, this year we find it stopped in the House.
This leaves me wondering: Why is the House anti-small business?
If it’s small business vs small business you are making this decision upon, why are you going out of your way to help people who were misled? While I feel for them, what about us? I don’t want my business to be a casualty in this corporatization, like Corky Cellars, like The Grape Adventure, like so many others. We have been harmed by the corporatization just as much, if not more, than the former state store owners. While they have had the ability to branch into craft beer and wine, we have not been given the ability to branch into craft spirits.
The playing field is unfair for small businesses and corporations.
I sincerely hope that you’ll give us the same consideration that you’re giving to auctioned liquor stores.
Vote YEA on SSB 5731 this week.
So many specialty shops have already gone out of business. In two days (February 27) Total Wine & More will be opening their newest location, 20 blocks north of my specialty beer store. The former state liquor store that was located two blocks from me closed a long time ago; I will not be taking any customers from them. Vote YES on SSB 5731 to allow me to diversify into craft spirits in effort to retain existing neighborhood customers, rather than push them out to Total Wine.
There’s a reason that SSB 5731, which was OVERWHELMINGLY APPROVED BY THE SENATE (43 yea, 4 nay). The Senate understands that it’s our only chance to remain in business, a potential chance to compete against out-of-state corporate businesses.
Yesterday leaving Olympia, I couldn’t help but feel I just left a dogfight, where the committee was hedging bets against two small under dogs, Former State Liquor Stores vs. Specialty Beer/Wine Stores.
It shouldn’t have felt like that.
The focus shouldn’t be on pitting the underdogs against each other. The focus should be on giving both underdogs the best tools they can get, the best training they can get, in order to better compete against the big dog.
Both small alcohol business models should able to equally compete against the corporate liquor chains.
I live in Sumner, my husband and I chose to open our small business in Federal Way as we felt, seven years ago, that it was the best location to open a specialty alcohol business that would be able to thrive in an economy that was looking to take a down turn. We chose wisely. But then the privatization happened. Our sales went from increasing every year, to dropping 14% last year. I have not just one household to support with my small business, but also those of a full time and two part time employees.
The Total Wine opening 20 blocks from my business won’t be carrying small Washington distilled spirits, but I could, if SB 5731 would be approved. That would give my business an opportunity to against a corporate big-box retailer, the ability to retain my employees, and peace of mind that my customers will continue to shop with me.
It’s time for our legislators to pay more attention to us small business owners.
It’s time to give small business a fighting chance against big corporate America.
I need you, small businesses need you– Representative Hurst, Representative Wylie, Representative Condotta, Representative Holy, Representative Kirby, Representative Moscoso, Representative Shea, and Representative Vick, to join Representative Blake in a YEA to APPROVE SSB 5731 to proceed to the House for approval. Don’t stand in the way of small business. Stop giving advantage to corporations.
We don’t need legislators who are pitting small business against small business; we don’t need legislators who are continuing to give advantage to corporate America. We need legislators who are representing the people.
Sincerely, with respect, and in support of all small business,
Owner & Shopkeeper
35002 Pacific Hwy S, A102
Federal Way, WA 98003
(253) 838-2558 store