Liquor stores keep flowing into Clark County

Total Wine & More, the nation's biggest chain, opens today near Vancouver mall

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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photoStore employees Ronald Bond and Alyssa Gustafson stock shelves Tuesday in preparation for Total Wine and More's grand opening Thursday.

(/The Columbian)

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Another large liquor store chain — the nation's biggest — has arrived in Vancouver to cash in locally on the state's newly privatized market for selling hard liquor.

Total Wine & More will open a Vancouver store Thursday. The Potomac, Md.-based company is the second liquor store chain to tap into Clark County's alcohol trade. It has already opened Washington stores in Tukwila, Spokane and Bellevue. The Bellevue store was the state's highest grossing liquor store in the second half of 2012, with sales totaling $2.43 million, the Puget Sound Business Journal reported.

The company plans two additional stores — Lynnwood and Olympia — in Washington, where voter approval of an initiative to privatize the formerly state-run hard liquor business took effect last June.

Its Vancouver site, in a vacant Big Lots store at 4816 N.E. Thurston Way across the street from Westfield Vancouver mall, is located centrally and at a strategic distance away from its chain-store competitor, BevMo. The California-based booze seller opened its first Clark County location in an east Vancouver shopping center in April.

Total Wine spends approximately $1 million to open each store, according to Edward Cooper, a spokesman for the 90-store chain. However, his company didn't spend a dime on the initiative that privatized liquor sales, he said.

"That initiative was undertaken by Costco," Cooper said. "We were clearly interested in the outcome."

Issaquah-based Costco Wholesale Corp. spent $22 million lobbying for Initiative 1183, which passed in November 2011 with a 58 percent approval among voters statewide and in Clark County.

Cooper said Total Wine & More has actively lobbied lawmakers in other states, including Pennsylvania, where the state Senate is considering a bill that would privatize state-controlled wine and spirits sales.

"I think Washington residents wanted a more modernized beverage law and people in Pennsylvania are considering the same thing," Cooper said.

Total Wine & More now operates in 15 states.

Second store?

Cooper declined to say whether Total Wine & More is planning a second store for Clark County. The state's switch to private sales increased the number of retail outlets that sell hard liquor in Clark County to approximately 76 licensed stores, up from 14 state liquor stores, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

The new state law limits booze selling to stores that are 10,000 square feet or larger in size, but the former state liquor stores were exempted from that size restriction. Many of those were sold to private entrepreneurs at auction. In Clark County, most of those have already closed.

New owners of the former state-run locations blamed their stores' poor sales on competition from the likes of Costco and, in the case of Clark County, competition from Oregon, where the state controls liquor sales and prices on some products are lower.

With two large liquor retailers opening within months in Clark County some residents wonder how many more new booze sellers to expect.

Pam Lindloff, an associate vice president and retail expert with NAI Norris Beggs & Simpson in Vancouver, predicts that major liquor-focused retailers, such as Total Wine & More and BevMo, will carefully analyze the local market before opening another store

She predicts these evaluations will show that Clark County can handle more chain liquor stores.

"I won't be surprised to see another third store or fourth store in at least the next year or two," Lindloff said.

Cooper has said prices at Total Wine & More will be set to compete with Costco, its biggest competitor in liquor sales.

Total Wine & More stores sell liquor, snacks and accessories. The Vancouver store is slated to carry more than 8,000 different wines — including 1,400 Washington state wines — along with approximately 3,000 distilled spirits and 2,500 types of beer, including craft beers produced in Washington.

Total Wine and More

What: Vancouver’s 20,000-square-foot store is part of a 90-store chain that sells wine, beer and liquor in 15 states. The store includes flat screens playing informational videos and a classroom for educational workshops and tasting events.

Where: 4816 N.E. Thurston Way, Vancouver.

Store employees: 40 to 50.

Employees companywide: 3,000.

Projected 2013 sales: $1.5 billion.

History: Total Wine & More was founded in 1991 by brothers David and Robert Trone, who launched the company with two wine stores in Delaware. It remains privately held.

What’s next: This year, the company plans to open stores in Lynnwood and Olympia.

Store hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily starting today.

Web:Total Wine & More