First call at new liquor store BevMo

Retail giant opens its first Vancouver store, touting wide selection, good service

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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California liquor store chain BevMo on Friday opened its first Vancouver store, bringing the total number of its Washington locations to seven stores since June 1, when state law opened booze selling to private retailers.

The store's arrival is one piece of the historic shift in retail liquor sales in Clark County and the state of Washington as a result of voter approval of private liquor sales. The privatization law, which took affect last year, allowed large retailers such as Fred Meyer and Costco to sell liquor side-by-side with other beverages. Previously, liquor could only be sold in state-run stores.

BevMo set its sights on Washington immediately after the new state law took effect. Its new 11,000-square-foot Vancouver store is

in the Target-anchored Mill Plain Town Center at 700 S.E. 160th Ave. The store employs about 24 people and features a large selection of spirits, wine, beer, a growler station for on-tap beer and a special tasting room, along with bar accessories, snacks and nonalcoholic beverages, said Mike Muncal, a spokesman for the Concord, Calif.-based company.

He said BevMo expects to open three more Washington stores by September in Bellingham, Redmond and Issaquah. The popular chain now operates 130 stores in California, Arizona and Washington, where the company mainly competes with regular grocery stores for sales.

"That's really our main competition," Muncal said. He added that BevMo does not consider Costco stores to be major competitors because of the warehouse-style chain's membership requirement and narrower range of choices.

"Their selection is much smaller," he said, adding that BevMo carries between 15,000 and 20,000 items in its stock.

"Besides selection, we have beverage experts who can really help the customer find what they're looking for," Muncal said.

Store employees undergo extensive training to gain product knowledge on BevMo's wine, beer and spirits products.

"There's another kind of training we don't offer," Muncal said, "but they (employees) have to be fun and friendly."

Border store

So far, Vancouver's BevMo appears to be the only store the company plans for Southwest Washington, a region where liquor sellers are up against price competition from Oregon's cheaper, state-run liquor sales.

When Washington voters approved the switch from state to private liquor sales, they also approved adding a 17 percent retailers' fee and a 10 percent distribution fee to the price of every bottle at checkout. It has pushed many Clark County residents south across the border to Oregon where the cost of liquor has always been cheaper, even before Washington made the switch. Nevertheless, BevMo expects to draw a certain amount of Oregon shoppers to its Vancouver store, Muncal said.

"I think what would incentivize them is our selection," he said. "It is really second to none."

Cami Joner: 360-735-4532; cami.joner@columbian.com