‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’

Washington state voters will experience déjà vu when they receive their ballots this year for the Nov. 8 election. Yet another initiative (I-1183) that would privatize liquor sales in Washington is up for debate. The initiative made headlines last week when Costco Wholesale added another $8.9 million to support the initiative, bringing its total contributions to more than $22 million, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. “I don’t like the fact that Costco is the money behind this,” says Kettle Falls Liquor Store manager Claire Nokes. “They are spending millions and millions of dollars on this, so you know they expect to reap a profit from it if it passes.” Proponents of I-1183 claim that license fees would generate new revenue for the state and safety would improve because law enforcement would double penalties for stores that sell to minors if the measure is approved. The measure would allow retailers like grocery stores to apply for licenses to stock liquor. On the other hand, some feel that if the system isn’t broken, don’t fix it. “There are many things being advertised and said on both sides of this issue that I wonder if they are true, honestly,” says Judy Huguenin, manager of the Chewelah Liquor Store. “But I know that if this passes, I will be losing my job and the two employees I have will lose their jobs too. My compliance with the state is 100 percent. As of Nov. 1, I will have been here for 23 years. I don’t understand the sudden urgency to remake the system.”‘Would we be able to compete with big box stores?’ Both Huguenin and Nokes contract independently with the state to operate their respective liquor stores. The Colville Liquor Store is owned by Washington State. Currently, liquor is sold in 165 state-run stores. If I-1183 passed, it would require a private store selling liquor to be 10,000 square feet or larger. If the square footage is not available in the area, a smaller store can petition to be a retailer. Nokes says contract stores like hers could be grandfathered in, but she doesn’t see the point. “Would we be able to compete with big box stores like Wal-Mart and Safeway?” Nokes asks. “We could probably carry more variety than a bigger store, but would people go out of their way to buy it? If we can’t be competitive we lose business.” Colville Liquor Store manager Cody Washburn says she hopes voters do their own research on I-1183. “I feel it’s (I-1183) a little bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” says Washburn. “Liquor stores in Washington State have a 93 percent compliance rate when it comes to law and regulation. We are some of the top-rated in the country. I don’t understand why we have to go through this again when it was already voted down last year.”