Survey says liquor prices not lower in many cases

Unscientific sample based on input from Columbian readers

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

Liquor prices for Clark County

View a list of the 20 top-selling brands in Washington, how much they cost before the June 1 privatization of liquor sales and what they cost now. If you’ve purchased any of these products recently, help us measure local prices by filling out an online form that will tell us how much you are paying for liquor in Clark County.

Computer: The Columbian

Mobile: The Columbian mobile

Results: Click here

Clark County booze buyers appear to be shelling out more money for a bottle than before a June 1 privatization of liquor sales in Washington.

Median prices are higher for 14 out of 20 of the state's top-selling brands listed in an unscientific online survey conducted by The Columbian in the past two weeks. Readers contributed a range of price information to the survey in the interest of reporting how liquor prices have changed in the aftermath of Initiative 1183.

Voters passed the measure in November, bringing a June 1 end to Washington's state-run liquor sales. Now, retailers larger than 10,000 square feet — and a few smaller stores auctioned off by the state — are allowed to sell hard alcohol.

Those who suspected liquor prices would go higher without state involvement might feel supported by The Columbian's initial survey results.

Readers reported 66 of 121 prices — 55 percent — that were the same as or higher than they had been at state liquor stores before privatization. The rest of the reported prices from a variety of grocery stores were lower.

The new law "is challenging the basic idea that competition leads to lower prices," a June 5 article reported in The Seattle Times, which also has been gathering price data from its online readers.

Columbian readers commonly complain that they were ill-informed about new liquor prices in the days and weeks leading up to the passage of I-1183.

"The initiative was pushed heavily that we would see lower prices," which didn't happen in many cases, wrote Pete Muellner, in a comment on Columbian.com.

"I hope Washington voters get smarter," said Muellner, who said he bought a bottle of gin at a Vancouver Costco that was $1.76 more than for the same bottle in Oregon.

Effects in Oregon

Some Oregon liquor sellers say they are already attracting Washington buyers.

"We're actually pulling fantastic numbers. Our sales are up over 35 percent," said Rob Babin, co-owner and manager of Stateline Liquor, just south of the Interstate Bridge in Portland.

New customers to his store are from as far away as Seattle, he said.

"I'm seeing a collage of people in the 35- to 40-ish age range," said Babin, who has added two employees to what was a staff of 15 at the beginning of June.

He has also received more requests for special orders of liquor since Washington's change to private liquor sales.

"A lot of customer requests are for items I've never heard of before," Babin said.

Washougal liquor store owner Shelby Piersol, who converted her state-contracted store to a private liquor business, admitted that her sales have dropped by about 60 percent since June 1.

She said she hopes to recapture lost sales over time by carrying a wide selection and by listing the shelf price of the bottle with all of the state fees and taxes spelled out.

"I think it has helped," Piersol said of her full-disclosure pricing. "The biggest thing for us is (that) people really appreciate that we're being honest and fair."