Local Retailers Still Grappling with New Liquor Law

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The added convenience of being able to buy liquor at more places also brought additional costs and local retailers are now taking extra security measures to prevent theft of the expensive items.

Many customers thought spirits would cost less after the Washington State Liquor Control Board turned liquor sales over to the private sector on June 1, as mandated by voter-approved Initiative 1183. But customers are learning otherwise in the checkout lane.

The state is charging a 17 percent retailer licensing fee, on top of a 20.5 percent sales tax, and an additional 3.77 percent per liter.

Some retailers are not listing these fees in the price of a bottle, resulting in sticker shock at the register.

“It’s been rocky,” said Darris McDaniel, who owns Shop-N-Kart in Chehalis and Centralia. “We’ve had supply problems. We’ve had pricing problems. But we’re almost 100 percent there.”

Daniel said he has not noticed any more theft than usual since he began selling liquor on June 1. But he did install 12 additional security cameras in each store.

While he hasn’t had problems with theft, McDaniel said he has been operating with only about 40 percent of the products he needs because distributors are catering to the big chain stores like Safeway and Walmart, which are now selling liquor.

“This initiative was written for Costco by Costco,” he said. “They failed to tell people prices were going to go up so it’s been sticker shock.”

McDaniel said he will have about 90 percent of his stock, including popular brands like Crown Royal and Smirnoff, in Friday.

While Shop-N-Kart does not include the 20.5 percent state tax or the 3.77 percent tax per liter in the sticker price, McDaniel did post signs explaining the fees in his stores.

“We want everyone to know this is not Shop-N-Kart that’s making the prices so high,” he said. “It’s the state.”

Bailey’s IGA in Rochester also chose not to include the full price of a bottle on the sticker, but posted signs to explain the taxes and the resulting increase in cost in the liquor aisle.

Still, store manager Nick Blanksma said customers are surprised at the register.

He said he does not think voters considered that retailers like his store pay a 17 percent licensing fee and an additional 10 percent to distributors. And those costs are passed along to the consumer.

Since the store already had cameras and mirrors, they put the liquor near a checkstand to prevent theft.

“It’s easy to keep an eye on up there,” Blanksma said.

Toledo IGA Hendricks also made efforts to reduce theft by realigning the store’s security cameras and installing mirrors.

Store Manager Randy Hendricks said while they do list the taxes under each bottle’s price the total is not calculated there for the customer.

“We try to label it so there’s no yelling and screaming at the register,” he said.

The IGA in Tenino did the same. The store marks the standard price on the sticker and lists taxes below but the fees are not combined for the customer.

“Most people seem to know what they’re getting into but they still complain,” said Andrew Schuler, the night manager. “It’s pretty shocking, the taxes.”

Schuler said the store installed mirrors in addition to their existing cameras to prevent theft.

Brenda’s Country Market started selling spirits Wednesday with a temporary permit and may have to install more security cameras in order to obtain a permanent licence.

Unlike many retailers, Brenda’s does include the full price on the sticker so customers are not surprised at the register.

“I know that was a problem in other stores,” said Brandon Hamrick, a store manager. “It was a bit of sticker shock.”

Still, Hamrick said customers complain that prices are higher than the state’s prices.

“But they still bought it,” he said. “They just maybe didn’t get as big of a bottle.”

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Amy Nile: (360) 807-8235

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