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Costco Battles For Cheaper Booze In Wash. State

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Costco Battles For Cheaper Booze In Wash. State


Costco Battles For Cheaper Booze In Wash. State

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Washington State, a ballot measure that would change how alcoholic beverages are sold has produced an unlikely alliance. Firefighters, church groups and beer distributors have teamed up to fight a proposal that would do away with state-run liquor stores and eliminate price controls in the sale of wine and beer.

From Seattle, NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.

WENDY KAUFMAN: If you want to buy hard liquor here, you have to go to one of 315 state-sanctioned liquor outlets. The hours at stores like this one in suburban Seattle are relatively limited, and the prices are high. For example, a standard handle of Smirnoff vodka will set you back $30. That same bottle costs just $16 at Costco stores in California.

And the giant retailer, which incidentally is based here, wants to offer similar prices in this state. And it's put a lot of money and muscle into getting Initiative 1100 on the ballot and getting it passed.

Mr. JOEL BENOLIEL (Senior Vice President, Costco): It's a matter of principle.

KAUFMAN: Joel Benoliel is a senior vice president at Costco.

Mr. BENOLIEL: Part of what we're known for is being pro-consumer. And when we identify places where they are being gouged, we think it's incumbent on us to stand up for our members.

KAUFMAN: Though he's quick to admit there is a profit motive, too. The so-called Costco initiative has support from some large retailers, grocery outlets and some big-name restaurateurs who appear in this TV ad.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Man #1: I-1100 means new jobs.

Unidentified Man #2: I-1100 helps restaurants compete in a tough economy.

Unidentified Man #3: It's good for the Washington wine industry, too.

Unidentified Woman: Convenience, choice...

Unidentified Man #4: And lower prices.

Unidentified Group: We're voting yes on 1100.

KAUFMAN: On the other side of the debate is a group called Protect our Communities. They don't want to make alcohol easier to get.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Man #5: As a firefighter EMT, I see the impacts of alcohol abuse every day.

KAUFMAN: The ad urges a no vote on 1100 and a related measure, 1105.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Man #5: These initiatives mean 10 times as many stores selling hard liquor, including 24-hour gas stations and mini-marts.

KAUFMAN: But the ad doesn't tell you who is really funding this campaign. Firefighters, church groups, government officials and others oppose the initiatives. But the big money in the no campaign is coming from beer and wine distributors.

They have a lot to lose if the existing rules, which grant them a certain amount of monopoly power, are abolished.

Alice Woldt, executive director of the Washington Association of Churches, acknowledges the campaign strange bedfellows.

Ms. ALICE WOLDT (Executive Director, Washington Association of Churches): You know, the campaign looked for big money to help fund the campaign. So, it's kind of a natural, I guess, looking for whose interests would really be hurt if there was just total deregulation.

KAUFMAN: Washington is one of roughly 20 states that exercise broad control in the sale of alcohol. It's the only one that has a November ballot initiative that would take some of that power away and deregulate the sale of alcoholic beverages. Nationwide, beer distributors are nervous. They fear that if deregulation wins here, the push to deregulate will spread across the country.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

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