David LeClaire, founder of Wine World Warehouse, is one of the few Washington-based wine sellers who stands to benefit if voters today approve Initiative 1183. As the owner of a store that exceeds the 10,000 square-foot dimensions required by the liquor privatization measure, LeClaire could be selling hard liquor as soon as June. He's already in talks with craft distillers to host 2012 product launch parties.
But LeClaire voted against the initiative, for reasons he believes few of his customers have considered.
"1183 is all about liquor sales on the surface, but that has nothing to do with what's inside the bill," says LeClaire.
LeClaire believes the new rules would seriously hurt small wine merchants and locally-owned grocery stores. In addition to barring small-sized stores from selling spirits, the 65-page initiative also allows for price negotiations. That's a boon for major supermarkets and chain restaurants, which can purchase wine by the truckload, but LeClaire says it disadvantages wine sellers who don't have the shelf space or budget to purchase more than a few cases at a time.
"People don't understand why the prices are different, so they'll feel like they're getting gouged," he says.
A provision allowing for central warehousing also concerns LeClaire, who points out the initiative doesn't specify where the warehouse should be located. Big box stores seeking friendlier liquor laws can "have (their) central warehouse in Illinois or Texas," he says. That's an efficiency unavailable to small-scale wine sellers.
The Washington Wine Institute, the state's wine industry lobbying group, has not taken a position on Initiative 1183. Many wine makers - as well as craft distillers - are keeping their opinions on the matter private, fearful of antagonizing customers, retailers or the state. The exceptions, LeClaire says, are "some winemakers that are just anti-liquor board, so anything they can do to depower the liquor board, the better."
LeClaire believes so many Washingtonians share their disgust that the initiative will pass. "People know they're not going to drink more," LeClaire says of anti-1183 ad campaigns claiming the expansion of liquor sales would pose a public health risk. "People aren't that dumb."
If 1183 foes would stress the small business argument, LeClaire thinks they'd have a better chance of swaying voters.
"The most effective piece has been 'don't let big companies buy elections'," LeClaire says. "We're a community that does like to support local, and big companies aren't local."
Ballots must be postmarked by today, or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. A complete list of King County ballot drop boxes is available here.