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South Whidbey stores start new era of liquor sales

Scot Huntington stocks and checks the supply of liquor at the Goose Community Grocer. The store manager was a bit frazzled June 1 after some complications led to a delayed shipment of liquor.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Scot Huntington stocks and checks the supply of liquor at the Goose Community Grocer. The store manager was a bit frazzled June 1 after some complications led to a delayed shipment of liquor.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Out with the state, and in with increased taxes and private liquor sales.

South End grocery stores like the Red Apple, the Goose Community Grocer and Payless Foods are now in the booze business.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

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

“If they go up, don’t drink."

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

Davis believes the prices will go up. Even when there’s liquor at Walmart and other retailers, she said she’ll still return to the Oak Harbor Liquor Store because it brings back memories of enjoying cocktails with her late husband.

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