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The State Liquor Control Board last month opened its first " premier liquor store " in West Seattle, but it's unclear what will become of

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Liquor Initiative Orders State to Auction Off Properties It Doesn't Own

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The State Liquor Control Board last month opened its first "premier liquor store" in West Seattle, but it's unclear what will become of the property - and 165 other state-run stores - if voters this November back an initiative to privatize liquor sales.

According to the 60-page proposal, "the board must sell by auction...the right at each state-owned liquor store location...to operate a liquor store upon the premises." But since the board doesn't own any of its stores, it can't legally determine who takes over their leases.

"It's a common misconception," board spokesperson Brian Smith says. "We don't own the spaces, so we can't auction them."

The state can easily sell back its inventory and auction off store fixtures, but can't force a landlord to rent space to a liquor store. Still, Smith says, the board is obliged to "make an attempt at compliance" with state law, so if Initiative 1183 passes, the state might secure another property in the vicinity to sell at auction.

"We'd have to find a location to make sure an area is still served," he says.

The auction directive doesn't apply to the state's 163 contract liquor stores, which could continue to operate as privately held establishments if their owners wanted to compete with grocers.

"That's the thing when you have an initiative," Smith says of the puzzle pertaining to state-run stores' fates. "It's not always totally clear."

Smith says the state has no plans to curtail store openings or renovations just because liquor privatization is back on the ballot.

"We will continue to move forward," he says. "We're not going to rest on our heels and wait for the initiative."

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