Privatized liquor sales force smaller stores to diversify

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A row of Bacardi brand rum is shown at In the Spirits liquor store in Ephrata. Owner Susan Danby said offering a wider selection of brands and types of liquor is the key to making her store stand out against larger retailers.

MOSES LAKE - Small liquor stores in Grant County are having to adjust to a whole new market, as new regulations and new competition continue to crop up in the wake of Initiative 1183, which privatized liquor sales with its passing last year.

Some liquor retailers in the area have experienced a drop in business as a result of privatized sales, and large chain retailers adding liquor to their inventory.

Susan Danby, who operates In the Spirits liquor store in Ephrata, said it has been a challenge to keep her business afloat after liquor sales were privatized.

Danby had contracted liquor sales through the state for about eight years before the new liquor law took effect. Since June, Danby said she has lost about 50 percent of her business to bigger retailers in the area.

"Ephrata is a small town, there's 7,000 people and three competitors," said Danby. "It's tough, it's very tough." Danby said that she hopes the novelty of buying liquor at bigger stores will wear off, and that people will start coming back to smaller liquor stores.

Danby said she offers a wider variety of brands of wine and liquor that bigger chains might not carry. She also has a big selection of local wines and inventory from craft distillers.

Although Danby has always sold novelty items like gifts and glassware, she is hoping to implement other services that will set her store apart from other businesses.

Danby was recently given the okay to start delivering liquor to customers, and hopes to start offering that service soon.

"If someone is having a large get-together and they come in and buy a lot of liquor beforehand, I can deliver it," said Danby.

The law changing the requirements for holding wine tastings has also taken effect, and Danby said she wants to try to implement that into her business as well. Previously, stores had to have 50 percent of their revenues come from wine sales in order to hold wine tastings. But that law has since changed.

Mike Ventura, of Moses Lake Liquor, said he also had to start selling a variety of goods in order to supplement liquor sales. Moses Lake Liquor was a state-contracted liquor retailer before the new law took effect.

His store on Stratford Road now carries assorted mugs and glasses, gift items and snacks in an effort to bring in more income.

Ventura said since the state implemented a new spirits distributor license, liquor distributors are having to increase their prices to fund the new fees.

According to the state Liquor Control Board, all persons holding a spirits distributor license must have paid collectively $150 million, or more, in spirits distributor license fees by March 31, 2013.

The additional fees have caused distributors' prices to go up, said Ventura, which forces retailers to mark their prices up.

"The price of some liquor has doubled, and in some cases tripled," he said.

Danby said she was against the initiative to privatize liquor sales since it would mean an eventual increase in liquor prices.

"The price of liquor has increased by 11.6 percent now," she said, citing recent figures from the state Department of Revenue.

Danby said that other stores that were once contractors through the state are trying to fit into the new marketplace that has evolved from the passing of Initiative 1183.

"It will be interesting to see how it all comes down, since it's only been six months," said Danby.

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