Business

Oak Harbor Liquor Store hopes to compete

Ruth Davis has been coming to the Oak Harbor Liquor Store for about 20 years. Her belief that the privatization of liquor sales will make prices go up led her to visit the store on its final day before the changes hit. - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Ruth Davis has been coming to the Oak Harbor Liquor Store for about 20 years. Her belief that the privatization of liquor sales will make prices go up led her to visit the store on its final day before the changes hit.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

Employees at the Oak Harbor Liquor Store turned up the music to commemorate their final day as a state-owned liquor store May 30.

Initiative 1183 went into effect June 1, meaning retail stores like Walmart, Albertson’s, Costco, Saar’s Marketplace and more can now sell liquor and spirits.

Initiative 1183, which voters approved in November, ended the state’s 78-year monopoly on liquor sales in Washington. As of June 1, stores greater than 10,000 square feet could start selling hard alcohol in addition to the beer and wine they already offered.

For the Oak Harbor Liquor Store, this means new management. Brazil, Ind., businessman Kulbir Singh bought the rights to the state-owned store through an auction.

The store, located across the street from the theater on Barlow Street, will be closed for a couple of weeks while adjusting to the changes, said Carlos Harry, a clerk at the store since January.

“It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that just got shut down. We’re all trying to feel it out,” Harry said. “But hopefully we’ll be open soon; we love serving our customers.”

Singh will retain any employees who are willing, Harry said. Harry is unable to stay due to a personal commitment, but he said they’ve seen plenty of resumes coming in.

Harry’s and customers’ biggest worry is that with the changes, the prices of liquor will go up.

“It’s almost assured that they’ll go up,” Harry said of liquor in the Oak Harbor store, citing state distribution and mark-up prices.

Mernie Robinson, a customer for 12 years, agreed.

“I think the prices are going to go up. I kind of have mixed feelings about that,” Robinson said. He didn’t vote on the initiative.

While the government claims local governments will gain money from the changes, Robinson said he doesn’t understand that.

“Makes me feel like they’re a lot of sore losers,” Robinson said.

Robinson said he has enjoyed this store for its convenience.

“It’s got friendly people in there. I hope they keep the same crew there,” Robinson said.

However, if the prices do go up, “I doubt I’ll be coming back here,” Robinson said.

Elaine Sires said that if the prices change at all, she thinks they’ll go down. More stores selling liquor means more competition and therefore lower prices. She’s been coming to the store off and on for about 20 years.

“I just can’t believe it’s happening. I don’t know if it’ll be good or bad,” Sires said of the changes.

Her solution if prices do go up: “If they go up, don’t drink.”

Jean Bright, however, will come back whether prices go up or down. She has a 20-year history with the store and she voted against the initiative.

“They’re very friendly here,” Bright said.

Ruth Davis, who has come to the store for 20 years, stopped by May 30 to purchase liquor in preparation for the changes.

“I don’t like it,” she said of the changes.

She believes the prices will go up, and “that’s why I’m in here today,” Davis said.

However, even when there’s liquor at Walmart and other retailers, she said she’ll still come back to the Oak Harbor Liquor Store because it brings back memories of enjoying cocktails with her late husband.

“You come in here and you feel you’re at home. You don’t have all these other people you have to fight and you can get checked out very quickly,” Davis said, adding that at the liquor store, you “get away from the crowds, the hustle bustle of grocery stores.”

For more information about Initiative 1183, visit the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s website at www.liq.wa.gov.

 

 

 

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