Photo by Gwen Davis
Alexis Stark, employee at New Belgium Brewing Company, takes care of business at Tukwila's BevMo!

Tukwila liquor superstores offer more choices, low prices

By Gwen Davis

With voters’ decision to privatize liquor last Nov. with I-1183, the state is out of the liquor business and private companies have full-reign of the liquor-selling playing field. Local grocery stores, established wine retailers, small businesses and restaurants have sold liquor since June, when the initiative took effect.

Liquor superstores
But two superstores recently opening in Tukwila – Total Wine and BevMo! – offer an extensive selection of alcoholic beverages at prices unbeatable by local retailers. Similar to corporations such as Wal-Mart and Target – one-stop-shops that provide massive selection at low prices – Total Wine and BevMo! provide unmatched opportunities for alcohol purchasing.

This is in spite of I-1183’s promise of higher liquor taxes and new fees imposed on retailers.

Total Wine, based in Maryland, opened its first Washington location in Bellevue in June. The franchise has over 80 stores in 13 states, making it the largest independent retailer of fine wines. It sells over 8,000 wines, 3,000 spirits and 2,500 beers, as well as some specialty food items and beverage accessories.

Brothers David and Robert Trone started total wine in 1991 with two stores in Delaware.

Additionally, Total Wine has plans to open locations in other parts of the state, too.

According to observers, Total Wine is attracted to Washington due to residents’ higher incomes, education levels and above-average alcohol consumption. The company closely followed Costco-backed I-1183 and was ready to pounce.

David Trone, president of Total Wine said earlier this year that the store targets customers who make $100,000 and up.

BevMo! made its debut in 1994, opening six stores in the San Francisco Bay area. Headquartered in California, BevMo! has approximately 118 stores in California, Arizona and now in Washington.

BevMo! is more of a specialty beverage retailer compared to Total Wine. Rather than offering every wine possible, BevMo! employs judges to taste between 6,000 and 9,000 wines annually to pare down the choices to approximately 3,000 wines. In addition to carrying wines from around the world, BevMo! offers many Washington state wines.

“We think local,” said Stephen L. Higgins, president of BevMo! “Our assortment features some of the best wines, local brewers and distillers from the Northwest and all over the world.”

Higgins said the store’s size, West coast location and long-standing relationship with suppliers gives the company “great buying power.”

BevMo! also offers specialty foods, mixers, cigars and other beverage accessories. It has a soda selection with over 250 choices. In addition to opening in Tukwila, more locations are anticipated by the end of this year.

“We will continue to bring special prices, offers and events to our local Washington area stores,” Higgins said.

Alexis Stark, employee at New Belgium Brewing, a company that works with BevMo! said that BevMo! and Total Wine attract different clientele.

“Size-wise alone, BevMo! won’t be as large as Total Wine, so people who are looking for a lot of variety but not as vast as Total Wine will be more comfortable shopping at BevMo!” she said. “People who are looking for a huge space to go and find a lot of different brands might be more likely to go to Total Wine.”

“They have really different formats – everything from how they lay out the store to the volume of products they bring in.”

Two lawsuits were filed to kill the liquor privatizing initiative. Issaquah-based Costco and other supporters of liquor privatization filed a lawsuit challenging the way the state implemented the law, claiming the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s limit of purchasing only 24 liters a day of wine and spirits benefited large, out-of-state distributors.

Costco, joined by the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Restaurant Association, filed the suit on June 21, 20 days after private retailers started selling spirits.

However, Washington Liquor Control Board officials said the rule-making process was open and transparent.

Greater effects?
A concern of those opposed to I-1183 was fear that alcohol would be more accessible to minors. Indeed, grocery store checkout personnel typically are not trained to check ID, and it is reportedly easier for minors to get alcohol, according to sources.

Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s hospital said earlier this year that teenage drinking is a serious problem and liberal access to alcohol can undermine teens’ academic and life success.

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