On Vashon, some express concern about statewide liquor initiative
By LESLIE BROWN
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Editor
October 25, 2011 · Updated 1:21 PM
An initiative that would privatize the sale of spirits would likely put Vashon’s one liquor store out of business.
Cherry Morgan, co-owner of Vashon Liquor, says that she and her business partner Karen Lindskog would be hard-pressed to keep their doors open if Initiative 1183 passed. That’s because the two women run what’s called a contract liquor store: They’re selling liquor provided by the state Liquor Control Board, Morgan said, not inventory they purchased themselves.
The small store in the center of town carries about $300,000 in inventory, Morgan said. “We’d have to come up with that money ourselves,” she said.
With ballots for the Nov. 8 mail-in election now in voters’ hands, Morgan said she’s worried about her store’s fate. “I’m scared to death,” she said. “It would almost certainly close us down.”
Were the measure to pass, liquor would most likely be sold at Vashon Thriftway and Vashon Market, the Island’s two grocery stores and the only places large enough to carry the product, according to the initiative’s language. Only stores 10,000 square feet or larger could sell liquor under the measure’s requirements — a criteria Thriftway and Vashon Market meet.
Kim Williams, store director at Thriftway, said the business hasn’t figured out what it would do, should the initiative pass.
“If it does pass, then you have to think about how you would incorporate it,” Williams said. “But to be honest, I haven’t put a lot of thought into it.”
At Vashon Market, owner Don Stolz said he’s troubled by the initiative. Stolz, who operates five small grocery stores, said the initiative favors what he and others call mega-grocery stores, such as Costco, which has poured more than $20 million into the “Yes on 1183 Coalition.” Just last week, Costco made its largest contribution to date — nearly $9 million to the yes campaign.
Stolz says the big retailers support the measure because it would allow only those grocers that own warehouses to purchase directly from distillers and bypass distributors; Washington, according to the Washington Food Industry Association, which represents independent grocery stores, would be the only state in the nation to allow this.
“This initiative just completely tips upside down the distribution system that’s out there right now,” Stolz said. “It completely changes the whole picture.”
The initiative has become the most expensive campaign in state history — with the two sides raising more than $34 million to battle the measure. Costco has been the largest single contributor, state records show. Opposition has been led by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, which has pumped nearly $9 million into maintaining the status quo.
Those who support the measure say they do so in large part because it would get the state out of liquor sales, putting the government into the position of regulating the market, not owning it. Several newspapers, including the Seattle Times, have come out in favor of the initiative; the state, many note, is one of only a few that sells liquor.
But on Vashon, where alcohol use among teens is above the state average, some are voicing concern about a measure that may make it easier for people to obtain spirits.
“It’s too high a price to pay,” said Robin Blair, who chairs the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA) and lost a daughter in an alcohol-related car accident.
Noting she was speaking as an advocate and mother, not the head of VARSA, she added that she fears the measure would make her coalition’s job more difficult.
“More access is not going to play a positive role or send a positive message,” she said.
Contact Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Editor Leslie Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-206-463-9195.