Oregon advised to loosen liquor sales

Task force calls for changes before a possible ballot measure imposes new model



PORTLAND (AP) — Oregon needs to give consumers more access to spirits, says a task force reviewing the state’s tightly controlled liquor sale system.

One idea from the committee, convened by a top liquor regulator, would be to expand sales to big grocery stores. Another would do that as well as adding in small wine shops.

On Thursday, that group made its final recommendations for the full Oregon Liquor Control Commission. They would call on the Legislature to increase consumer access but stop short of saying exactly how to do that, The Oregonian reported Friday.

The commission is under pressure to consider changes because of a potential ballot measure to privatize the liquor business, as Washington did. Oregon liquor stores, though privately owned, are licensed by the state.

Rob Patridge, commission chairman, convened the task force in September to look at ways to modernize the state’s liquor sales.

The system is rife with competing interests: liquor store operators, grocers, distributors, and makers of beer, wine and spirits.

But, Patridge said, there’s broad agreement the status quo can’t stand.

Liquor agents worry that privatization would rob them of investments they’ve made in their stores. Small distillers and wine distributors worry they would lose shelf space if spirits were sold by large grocers.

Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, defended the Washington model. He said Oregon’s current system is antiquated and small tweaks aren’t enough.

Steve Brown, a member of the task force who operates stores in Lincoln City and Salem, said liquor stores are often small and shabby because owners don’t have money to improve them: The 8.8 percent commission the state pays on sales has remained the same for years.

Paul Romain, who represents beer and wine distributors, said the commission should take the initiative to make what changes it can, because the Legislature won’t act during its one-month session next year.