A new day dawns for Vashon’s liquor store
By NATALIE JOHNSON
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter
June 6, 2012 · Updated 1:33 PM
Last week liquor sales in Washington changed dramatically, with state-run stores closing their doors and most chain grocery stores stocking their shelves with hard alcohol. But on Vashon, Initiative 1183, which privatized liquor sales in the state, has not altered the Island’s retail landscape.
Vashon’s two grocery stores have opted to stay out of the liquor business for now, and Vashon’s sole liquor store was closed for just a day before reopening Saturday as an independent shop.
Those who frequent the retail outlet in town or dine at the restaurants that buy from it, however, will notice some changes. And some already have.
On Monday many customers at Vashon Liquor were surprised to see that prices had gone up an average of 20 to 30 percent per bottle and even more for high-end labels.
Owners Karen Lindskog and Cherry Morgan found themselves frequently explaining the added fees and taxes they now pay as a private seller, sometimes even printing out receipts that broke the bottle prices down.
“I’m sorry,” Lindskog told one man who paid more than he wanted for a bottle of rum.
“Not as sorry as I am,” he said with a sigh.
Another man decided to put back his favorite bottle of vodka and chose a less expensive one.
“I love that stuff, but no,” he said.
Judy Clegg, who also visited the shop Monday, was shocked to learn her favorite bottle of scotch now costs $18 more than it used to. Lindskog priced several other bottles, lining them up on the front counter to find one that was in Clegg’s price range.
“I think people will be really surprised, people who voted for that,” Clegg said.
Most customers, however, seemed sympathetic to the shop owners, especially after learning that the deals advertised by stores such as Costco and Fred Meyer usually list prices before fees and taxes are tacked on.
“They would have put on a little over $10 at the register,” Lindskog told one man who thought he saw a bottle of liquor priced cheaper off-Island.
When I-1183 was passed by voters last fall, Lindskog and Morgan thought the store’s days might be numbered.
Lindskog explained that until June the two women ran a contract liquor store. They owned the shop but sold liquor provided by the state Liquor Control Board, not inventory they purchased themselves. Keeping the store would mean spending thousands of dollars to purchase the alcohol, a step they weren’t prepared to make.
“We didn’t support the initiative,” Lindskog said. “We had no desire to privatize.”
But ultimately the women, determined to keep the business going and encouraged by loyal customers, took a loan to purchase their extensive liquor inventory. Lindskog said the inventory has a retail value of about $360,000, but declined to say how much they paid the state for it.
“It’s an exorbitant amount of money,” she said.
Running the shop will also be more work now, Lindskog added, as the women are taking over some of the duties once performed by the state. They’re also in the process of figuring how they can order the same products they bought from the state from private distributors. The shop, she noted, is known for having a good selection and carrying some hard-to-find labels.
“It’s a ton of work getting this space ready,” she said.
Vashon Liquor reopened last weekend after a one-day closure required by the state to complete a final audit and inventory. Lindskog says she knows Islanders may find better prices at off-Island stores that can afford to take a loss on the liquor, but hopes Vashon Liquor has enough community support to get it through.
“I’m trying to not worry about it,” she said. “Smart shoppers shop wisely, and I think that the Island is supportive of small businesses and will continue to be.”
Meanwhile, neither Vashon Thriftway nor Vashon Market will stock their shelves with spirits any time soon. Managers at both grocery stores say the businesses’ owners have chosen to wait and see how liquor sales play out at other grocery stores before deciding whether to carry it.
“And see how people react to the price of alcohol and the taxes,” added Kim Williams, manager of Thriftway. “We’re going to hold our guns and see what happens.”
Joe Aubry, manager of Vashon Market, said the store’s owner, who lives off-Island, is also taking some time to decide.
“I think he’s waiting to see how it all washes out and make a decision at that point in time,” he said.
Lindskog said she and Morgan briefly considered moving their shop to an empty storefront in the Vashon Thriftway complex, which they thought would be a better location, but decided the move was too much on top of the other changes.
Still, Lindskog said, Thriftway’s owner Norm Matthews seemed supportive of their shop, and she believes both grocery stores kept her business in mind when deciding whether to sell liquor themselves.
“Where else would that happen?” she said with a grin.
Islanders may also pay more for drinks at local restaurants.
Alex Van Amburg, manager at The Hardware Store Restaurant, said that until now the restaurant has purchased all of its liquor from Vashon Liquor, located next door. He hopes to still purchase at least 90 percent of the restaurant’s hard alcohol there and said the restaurant may change its selection based on which labels increase the most.
“We’d like to keep that loyalty in tact,” he said.
Van Amburg also thinks taking advantage of off-Island deals for a few things and simply absorbing the extra costs will help keep their drink prices down. But eventually, he said, The Hardware Store may have to raise prices a bit. He compared the cost increase to when food prices went up.
“It’s going to be a little bump for a while I imagine. Like any transition, we will make it in a gradual and smooth manner as to not upset customers,” he said.
Managers at both the Red Bicycle Bistro and Mileta Creek Restaurant at the Vashon Golf & Swim Club said they, too, will keep buying from Vashon Liquor and will likely have no choice but to raise drink prices.
At Mileta Creek, Chris Lueck said prices for well drinks will likely go up 15 to 75 cents, while drinks with premium liquor may increase by a dollar or more.
“I’m more worried about my liquor sales dropping off and my customers jumping ship to start drinking more inexpensive beers or something like that,” Lueck said.
Wilson Kim, manger at the Red Bike, said he will likely raise prices on drinks there once he knows what Vashon Liquor will charge. Kim said he has looked at what liquor distributors are now asking and doesn’t think it would be worth it to take his business off-Island.
“I want to give (Vashon Liquor) every opportunity to give them our business, and it’s more convenient for us to use them,” he said.
An increase in drink prices, even a few cents, would undoubtedly ruffle some feathers, Kim said. But he’s not too worried.
“It is what it is. You can’t change it,” he said. “We’ll probably have a lot of people drinking more beer.”
Lindskog and Morgan, meanwhile, are making some changes at Vashon Liquor now that they know they’re there to stay, Lindskog said. Early this week, they prepared to take out part of a wall to expand the shop into a space that was once storage. They’re also reorganizing shelves and making other improvements to the interior.
“We’re doing some of the things we’ve wanted to do for the last three years,” Lindskog said.
Contact Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter Natalie Johnson at email@example.com or 206-463-9195.