OCEAN PARK - Awareness is lacking in the general public on the nature of Initiatives 1100 and 1105, the ballot measures which, if passed, would take liquor sales out of state hands and allow its sale by private parties.

Scott Gatzke, contract manager of the Ocean Park Liquor Store, said, "Well, obviously I need to be candid - I have a dog in the fight - but what I have been stunned about is that the story is not being told about what's really going on."

"It's Costco and Safeway, big money, that is backing these initiatives. If these measures pass, I will just have to retire."

In Long Beach, concern about the initiatives brought a city council resolution against them. See story on Page A3.

Loss of State Liquor Revenue Currently, the state handles all sales of hard liquor. There are roughly 167 state liquor outlets run by state employees and an additional 159 contract stores run by private entrepreneurs. A portion of liquor sales comes back to the counties for education and other services.

Pacific County took in $167,145 in fiscal year 2010 from liquor sales, broken down as follows: Ilwaco - $13,490; Long Beach - $19,234; Raymond - $37,925; South Bend - $22,316 and unincorporated county areas - $74,180.

Wahkiakum receives a total of $25,265 to $7,226 from Cathlamet and $18,038 for other areas.

Total state revenues from liquor sales top $360 million. Losing this revenue would be a huge hit to an already sinking budget.

Basically, if these initiatives pass, state sales of liquor and the consequent county portion of this revenue will cease to exist. As well, the employees, both state government and private business people, will lose their jobs.

Since most rural areas have contract managers for liquor stores, this could exacerbate the unemployment situation in rural counties, which are already suffering higher unemployment rates than their urban neighbors.

Loss of Local Stores Gwen Morgan, contract manager of the Long Beach liquor store, said flatly, "If I-1100 or I-1105 passes, we will just close up shop."

"Five years ago I put $32,000 into this shop to renovate, but I figured I'd have my license for a long time, enough time to make this investment back. I came into this business for the long-term."

Both Morgan and Gatzke have documents in their stores explaining the nature of this massive redistribution of sales revenue. But a random poll of consumers illustrated the general lack of knowledge about the issues. Only one customer in 10 seemed to know anything about the initiatives.

One exception was Shirley Demory, an Ilwaco resident for three years, who worked as a union representative. "One of our clients was the Washington State Liquor Board. [State liquor store employees are union workers.] I am absolutely against these initiatives."

Morgan also brings up the issue of alcohol abuse by underage drinkers, which many feel would be aggravated by a "Yes" on these initiatives.

"I don't want alcohol in convenience stores," Demory said. "It will just be too easy for kids to shoplift."

Liquor, Minors and Regulations Demory raises one of the fears opponents of these measures are touting. Not only would a "Yes" on I-1100 mean a closure of state liquor stores and the authorization of liquor sales, distribution and importation of spirits by private parties, it would repeal certain requirements that govern those business operations.

"The state of Washington has one of the highest enforcement records against sales of liquor to minors," said Gatzke. "I think we're number one in the country. We spend more money on enforcement than any other state."

The speculation is that opening sales to private parties on a licensing agreement opens the door for alcohol in convenience stores and other places, which would make it much more difficult to enforce the sales to minors laws on the books. It could also mean that minors would have an easier time getting access to alcoholic beverages.

"We've got 13 cameras in here and they still come in and shoplift at times," said Morgan. "They'll come in in pairs and one will do the distracting. Or they'll say 'I forgot my driver's license but, you know, I'm 21.'"

"I tell them, if you don't have your license to prove your age, I will not sell you liquor," she continued.

Both Gatzke and Morgan spoke about the stringent interview and application process they went through to become purveyors of spirits for the state. "My application was 32 pages long," says Morgan. "I'd been in the retail business for 13 years but this was the toughest interview I have ever had."

Big Money Gatzke is right about the support as well. A little digging shows that retail giant Costco is one of the main backers for I-1100. Chris Grygiel writing in the SeattlePI.com stated, that Costco "contributed $535,000 to the effort and allowed signatures to be gathered in its stores."

Another source, Jordan Schrader, writing in the Olympian indicates, "The Issaquah-based retail warehouse chain would like to put liquor on its shelves next to beer and wine, and has contributed nearly all of the $1.2 million raised by I-1100. Alcohol distributors Odom Southern Holdings and Young's Market Co. are the only donors to I-1105 [a related measure] which spent $2.2 million to get on the Nov. 2 ballot."

Schrader continues, "The campaign against the two measures has raised $4.7 million, including $4 million from state and national beer and wine wholesalers groups and the Beer Institute, a lobbying group for big companies, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, and smaller breweries, which also are lining up against privatization in Washington."

Small Wineries Small wineries and beverage distributors feel they would also be hurt by passage of these measures, according to Jimella Lucas, co-owner of the Klipsan Market Café.

Lucas stated that marketing and related costs would skyrocket for small wine makers, if they were even able to stay in business. Many of the premier wine selections at the Klipsan Market Café come from small winery proprietors, some handled by wine distributors who broker sales from many of these smaller producers to make distribution more cost effective.

Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for a coalition of interests opposed to liquor sales privatization, had even harsher words for these measures. As quoted in the Olympian, Kaushik said, "These proposals really are a sneak attack that will allow the liquor distributors and retailers to pick taxpayers' pockets."

"What it appears they will end up doing is essentially take hundreds of millions of dollars a year that we spend now on schools and health care and other core services and essentially transfer that money to the liquor and retailing industry."

Gatzke, longtime bartender at the Ark before those doors were closed in 2004, said, "I don't have to retire. But if this passes, I will. It just makes me really sad because I don't want to see this happen."

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