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Jun 1, 2012 11:01 PM

Liquor at the grocery store


What have you discovered so far in the brave new world of privatized liquor stores? I don't expect that the average QFC or Safeway will put too much effort into hunting down obscure bottles of rye whiskey, but surely there are some stores out there that are trying harder than others.

Today I was told that the Queen Anne Trader Joe's will not be selling liquor. However, the Lower Queen Anne Metropolitan Market has a wide variety of products from the Northwest. Aside from that, they definitely seem to favor some spirits over others (if you don't like clear liquors, you'd better like Scotch or tequila).

It seems like many/most of the former WSLCB stores will re-open in the same location, at least in Seattle. Have any of them opened up again yet?

  1. So far, what I understand is supposed to be (by their accounts) the largest variety and deepest selection of liquor is at Wine World just West of I-5 at 45th in Wallingford.

    Haven't checked it out in person yet, but I get their emails. I buy wine there fairly regularly, and the store is HUGE allready, with what appears a well-planned liquor roll-out.

    Here is a link:

    1. Discoveries: (1) To avoid stickershock/budget woes, remember to add 20% to the hangtag price. (2) Thanks to Costco, liquor is now generally more expensive.


      21 Replies
      1. re: kaleokahu

        Can you explain (2)? I thought prices were supposed to go down.

        1. re: acgold7

          Just paid $2.00 more for same bottle of Vodka I used to buy at WSLCB.....and that was

          with my Safeway Club card discount !!
          It's the additional taxes that are now jacking up the price!

          1. re: grangie angie

            Interesting. All the objective (i.e. non-partisan) analysis during the election said that while the taxes were different, they weren't supposed to be any higher overall, or even if they went up a bit they were supposed to be offset by lower product prices by eliminating the distributors' fees. Guess it didn't work out that way.

            Will be interested to see a wider sample over time to see what actually happens, especially with prices at Costco rather than full-price retailers.

            1. re: grangie angie

              Product cost + labor cost + taxes
              Product cost + labor cost + taxes + profit
              No confusion.
              (By the way, they have no taxes in Afghanistan, in case you feel a need to reject society)

              1. re: mrnelso

                Hey, folks -- we understand that it's all related to the privatization issue, but the discussion here is getting pretty far afield from the question of what you can actually find where and how much it will cost. We've removed some of the more far-reaching debate and would ask that people refocus the conversation. Thanks.

            2. re: acgold7

              Hi, acgold:

              The tax markup of the tag price, according to the grocery store manager I talked with yesterday when buying, is 23%. While this store is huge (Walmart), there are also the following problems:

              (3) the selection is abysmally small--e.g., nothing you'd want or need to cook with;
              (4) any bottles >$30 are kept in a totally different location behind one checkout counter (selection also tiny);
              (5) all but the most budget bottles have the alarmed anti-shoplifting/party cap that can only be removed with a special key. Our clerk didn't remove this, my wife missed the alarm going off when she exited the store, I set off the alarm a second time re-entering the store, and had to wait in a long line to have Customer Service remove the cap.
              (6) there is *nothing* to prevent a customer from opening a sleeve of plastic cups, filling one with booze, ice and mixer, and turning the store into a self-serve satellite Bourbon Street while shopping (an option I considered after #5 supra).

              I voted for this privatization Initiative, but so far I think it's an experiment that's already failing. I imagine that the only places that will have decent selections will be the few specialty liquor stores. Every place else is likely to be on the "dumbed down/limited" Costco model. What a PITA.


              1. re: kaleokahu

                How about giving it more than 2 days before passing judgement?
                I think many stores underestimated demand (thus the many bare shelves) and didn't have the data to understand both what to sell and what price to sell at.

                Give them a little time to adjust pricing, figure out policies and to figure out how to sell this entirely new product line.

                (also, maybe don't shop at Wal-Mart if you're looking for any sort of customer service...)

                1. re: GreenYoshi

                  Hey, GY:

                  Sure, I'll give the system some time... considering that's everyone's only option at this point.

                  Underestimated demand? Really? My guess was a supply limitation. But frankly, every private licensee I've been in has short shelves that couldn't *possibly* hold the selection of even the most rural WSLCB store. Not that I must have Goldschlager, but when I need basic Chartreuse green, where do I go?

                  We differ on Walmart, I guess--I think the only thing Wallyworld has going for it (besides that delicious carbon-monoxized meat) *is* customer service.

                  My prediction: This transition is going to be a bumpier ride than most voters were led to believe. I hope I'm wrong.


                2. re: kaleokahu

                  I shopped in CA for many years - no State Liquor. Walmart and most chain grocery stores were never known for their selection. We shopped at Costco for good deals on what they did carry, especially the Kirkland Brand products and then Bev Mo and specialty shops for other high end or specialty items. I think shopping for spirits in Washington will now be the same as it has been for shopping for wine - I don't expect to find high end wines at Walmart.

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    k - weird, as where I am WallyWorld only security tags the cheap stuff and I've joked with the clerk "if I was gonna boost something I'd go for the top shelf stuff"

                    in the ABC-type states I've lived in that have gone private, after time the market dictates, the prices come down and even out.

                    1. re: hill food

                      Hi, hill:

                      Well, when I was in WallyWorld, they didn't *have* anything but the "cheap" stuff. ;)

                      Did the other ABC states have something like the 10K sq. ft rule?


                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        yeah Wally doesn't stock much truly good

                        the ABC's were always smallish but I really wasn't paying attention. 10K sounds kind of big now that I think of it.

                        in KS we had half 'n' half stores (one side liquor, one side mixer, same clerk, 2 transactions) dinky. in VA the only wine they sold was local (no thx) and maybe 1K SF max. all had weird hours, no signage. one needed to feel a 'splashy-sense' tingling. I recall in those and the WA State ones the staff viewed the consumer with suspicion and judgment (yeah like I'm gonna crack and guzzle right here)

                        made me miss East St. Louis (as unlikely a statement that is) 24/7 baby in a shifty nabe!

                        1. re: hill food

                          I don't think that feeling you got from the Washington state stores was an accident. The state-run system seemed to be designed to protect the Good People of Washington from the Scourge of Demon Rum. The idea wasn't to sell liquor--it was to grudgingly make it available, with as many limits and inconveniences as possible, so as to minimize the amount that actually got out there. Popular attitudes toward alcohol might have evolved since Prohibition, but the rules and structure of the state system was stuck in that old mindset.

                          At least the private operators have actual motivation to sell product, and to figure out the most attractive and effective ways to do so (legally).

                          1. re: MsMaryMc

                            Hi, MMM:

                            Among other things, I'm a winemaker, so I completely understand your take on the lingering effects of a Prohibition mindset (the "C" in WSLCB).

                            But I must take issue with your "as many limits and inconveniences as possible" remark, as well as your implication that the State was just as hostile to alcohol sales in 2012 as it was 80 years ago. That is simply untrue; there has been a clear and substantial (belated, yes; steady, no) evolution toward a neutral moral stance on both the control and sale of alcohol.

                            For instance, it used to be that you could not be a bonded winery if *anyone* with any financial stake in the business also held *any* ownership interest in a retailer (e.g., owned Costco stock). This went by the wayside awhile back, as did many other outmoded restrictions like dumb tasting room regulations. My recent experience has been that WSLCB is indeed interested in helping state producers do well with sales, because it benefits everyone.

                            So it's not an absolutist Temperance vs. Free Market comparison at all.


                            1. re: kaleokahu

                              Clearly the state loosened up some before they got out of the liquor business entirely. I remember very well the first time after I moved here that I decided to make a rum cake or some such on a Sunday afternoon, and headed out the door to pick up a bottle of rum--until my husband said, uh, you're going to have a long drive to find that for sale on a Sunday...* At least they dropped that silly restriction a few years back. But overall, in comparison to states with private sales, the whole system still seemed to me to be based on that control model, rather than a sell-within-the-legal-limits model.

                              YMMV, of course, as always. But that was my perception and my experience.

                              * Part of my frustration with the old laws was that I don't think they had much impact on most "problem" drinkers--the alcoholics, the habitual DUI's. A serious drinker is going to make damned sure that they have enough on hand before the stores close. It's the casual, let's-make-a-rum cake, hey-a-blender-of-margaritas-would-sure-be-nice-this-afternoon consumers, who don't put such priority and forethought into acquiring booze within the permitted hours, who were inconvenienced.

                              1. re: MsMaryMc

                                Hi, MMM: "Part of my frustration with the old laws was that I don't think they had much impact on most "problem" drinkers--the alcoholics, the habitual DUI's."

                                I'm sorry, I must be slow today... How is the current private regime *better* impacting problem drinkers?

                                I get the advantage of being able to buy rum for a cake if you want to bake one on Sunday evening or at 2am. You'll be able to find that. But what about something like Creme de Minth or de Bananna *anytime*?


                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  "Hi, MMM: "Part of my frustration with the old laws was that I don't think they had much impact on most "problem" drinkers--the alcoholics, the habitual DUI's."

                                  I'm sorry, I must be slow today... How is the current private regime *better* impacting problem drinkers?"

                                  I didn't say the new laws are any improvement for dealing with problem drinkers. I just said that the old laws didn't seem very effective at that.

                                  A common justification (implied or stated) of the old state-run system was to better control alcohol and limit the damage done by "problem" drinkers. My experience was that they didn't seem to do that very well at all--they only inconvenienced people who weren't serious enough about their liquor to plan ahead or keep a lot of it around.

                                  1. re: MsMaryMc

                                    oh yeah if there's a problem, one is thinking 3 days ahead not 3 hours. sneaky sneaky. legal hours are not going to limit it. folks just get crafty, stock up and re-sell off-hours for a profit. but I'm going off OT

                3. re: kaleokahu

                  kaleo: Funny you should say that because I am in a liquor control state [Iowa] and Costco and Sam's Club sell booze for upwards to 25 percent less than my local liquor stores.

                  1. re: hawkeyeui93

                    Hi, hawkeyeui93:

                    I'm sorry, we provincials are new to all this privatization (I'm sure Costco Police & Fire is next). Is Iowa *both* a liquor control state *and* with chain retailers?

                    As for being more expensive, perhaps that will even out or settle down. But we have evidence here, in the early hours, of price gouging, and so far prices are higher.


                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      kaleo: I cannot answer your question, but the sense I get is that Costco/Sam's Club is outside of the control of the State of Iowa's Alcoholic Beverage Division ... I bet once you have a few large, independent liquor stores open in your state, prices will lower all around.

                4. What used to be the state's "premium" store down in West Seattle has reopened. It is considerably less expensive than the prices upstairs in QFC, but it is still more expensive than the old state store prices once you add the 20% + $3.88 per liter taxes that are not on the shelf tags but get added at the register. (Liquor pricing here is now like rental car or hotel room service prices - what you see is not what you get.)

                  The initiative was written to privatize the profits of the former state stores while being revenue-neutral for the state. It seemed pretty self-evident to me that there would be no incentive for prices to go down for anything but e.g. bacardi bought in bulk. So it has come to pass.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: terrier

                    What I supposed--or hoped--was that the incentive for prices to go down would result from inter-store price competition. On 5/31 the Seattle Times had this: " '(Wholesalers) know this is their time to price gouge because competition in the marketplace is going to force prices down," said Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, which represents Costco and other grocery stores.' " I assume that this was a preemptive defensive from the grocers, who may also have been ancipating consumer backlash once they printed their first liquor receipts. To me it seems most likely that both the distributors and the grocers built a gouge factor into their initial pricing, given the confusion that would inevitably flow from the new taxes.

                    I still hold out hope that prices will shake down as supply and demand level out. If not, I assume it's now easier to order online from DrinkUpNY, etc?

                    In other news, I noticed an abysmal selection and vacant shelves at the Mercer Island QFC, together with numerous shelf-talkers warning about the taxes not being factored in. That store always had a mediocre at best wine selection, so I won't expect the liquor to exceed it.

                    1. re: equinoise

                      I might be wrong, but I think we can order hard liquor online now. I was looking at an online vendor site the other day and they no longer list Washington as a state they can't ship to, like they used to. I wonder, is that only the sellers who've gotten themselves a Washington license? Or is it any liquor vendor able to sell and ship here now? Anybody know?

                      1. re: MsMaryMc

                        I've been ordering liquor online for a while, just for the obscure stuff. Hadn't found any restrictions on WA. Now I'm planning on ordering from NY for the regular stuff also. Even with shipping included, the prices are about half of what I've paid here so far.

                        1. re: L.Nightshade

                          Interesting...a few years ago I found a place in California that specialized in mini-bottles--they had stuff I'd never dreamed you could get that way. i ordered a whole bunch of good whiskeys for my husband's Christmas stocking. They emailed me and said, sorry, it's illegal for us to ship to Washington. I went back and, sure enough, we were on the list of no-go states on their website.

                          1. re: MsMaryMc

                            Yeah, I've actually found that with California sellers too. Don't know why NY didn't have a problem with it!

                          2. re: L.Nightshade

                            Linda, where do order from? I think with sticker shock in full swing now, I want to start buying online as well. Help?

                            1. re: gingershelley

                              Here's an interesting question: If we can buy online and take delivery via FedEx, UPS, etc., can we have liquor delivered by say, AmazonFresh or Safeway?


                              1. re: gingershelley

                                Here is my understanding, others should correct me if I am wrong.

                                I believe that law allows shipments of wine from out-of-state retailers, but forbids the shipment of spirits. As far as I know, that did not change on June 1. However, not all on-line retailers seem to have properly classified which states they can ship to, and you will occasionally find one that has not blocked Washington state addresses in their software. I have a few some small batch ryes that I could not find here from one such retailer. I am frustrated, because they don't carry one label I'd really like to try, which many other online sources do carry, but the others won't ship to Washington.

                                It is ironic that one effect of the initiative's passage is incentivizing Washingtonians to spend their liquor dollars in other states, due to the suddenly higher prices and more limited selection here. I guess now we are being driven to helping the economies of states other than our own.

                                1. re: Gizmo56

                                  Um, no. I've been buying specialty spirits from NY for quite a while, and now plan on buying not-so-specialty spirits. Looking at several retailers, they have states to which they cannot ship, but WA is not one.

                                  1. re: L.Nightshade

                                    The following is from the policy page of an online retailer, and this is typicalk of language I see at many others:

                                    "It is Binny's policy not to ship to certain states where direct shipment is prohibited and therefore, our web site will not let you place an order for shipment to Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington State, West Virginia and other states." ( )

                                    1. re: Gizmo56

                                      Oh well. I guess I'll keep enjoying my imaginary liquor that is delivered to my doorstep from out of state.

                                      1. re: L.Nightshade

                                        Your deliveries are not imaginary and neither are mine. All I am saying is that most online retailers don't ship to Washington.

                      2. I went to Safeway in Burien last night (Friday 6/1) about 10 pm, and the liquor shelves were about 1/3 bare. There were tags for a lot of products in front of empty spaces. I have to think they had plenty of time to get stock in, so it's hard to believe they started out with that kind of spotty selection. I think they'd just had that much demand in the first 22 hours. The checkout lines somewhat confirmed this--I'd say half the people in the (surprisingly-long for that time of night) lines had a bottle of booze, and not much else--and most of them were buying big 1.75 liter bottles.

                        1. As for the selection issues, I think it will take awhile for supply and demand to balance itself out. Stores need to figure out what their customer base wants, which they will never know unless you tell them, so be proactive and talk to a manager or drop a note in the suggestion box. I have a feeling that all we'll see at the big grocery stores during the summer are the basics, with only a few smaller stores becoming highly specialized (stocking product from local distilleries, small batch scotch & bourbon, obscure Kazakhstani vodkas, etc.). As for price, for me it was never about getting cheaper booze but rather getting the state out of the business. Be patient, everyone. This will take some time to get sorted out.