Last year the voters of Washington State elected to close down the State’s Liquor Stores and permit the sale of alcoholic beverages in stores. Costco put up some 40 million dollars for the campaign to change the law. Personally, I was happy with the state stores. They were open reasonable hours, they were clean, staffed by knowledgeable people and had excellent selection. The state pricing was pretty darn good too, because while the state charged the liquor sales tax, it didn’t mark up the products for profit purposes. The campaign promised that prices would not rise, the availability to minors wouldn’t increase and that it was about buyer convenience. The whole purpose of the change in law was to make it so that Joe Sixpack and Mary Homemaker could snag their favorite hooch while they shopped for other necessities. As if alcohol was a necessity.
The voters bought it hook line and sinker and soon the state stores closed and put about 1,800 people out of their jobs. The prices rose by five to eight percent and is still climbing, after all, companies like Costco don’t spend 40 million bucks to heighten customer convenience, they do it to raise their profits. Shoplifting alcoholic products has skyrocketed, and has put more and more booze into the hands of minors. What’s more, some companies made shoplifting alcohol way too attractive.
Safeway, the grocery food chain has a firm “do not interfere” policy when it comes to alcohol shoplifters. The policy is no secret and the stores have made themselves magnets for thieves looking for a little libation. The shoplifting is so bad, thieves are literally grabbing a plastic shopping basket on the way in, moving to the alcohol section and filling the basket before walking out unimpeded. Store workers, even their risk manager personnel have to sit by and watch it happen, barred from taking any action. Empty lots and parks near the Safeway stores are loaded with safety caps, showing that it doesn’t take long for the crooks to start celebrating their success.
Safeway corporate offices have asked the Spokane Police Department for assistance in curbing their losses. While the police can increase their lookout for people drinking in public, they don’t have the officers to assign to the stores. Still, Safeway chooses to retain its policy of no interference and the losses keep piling up.
Other stores are not having the issues Safeway has self-inflicted. One grocery chain, Yokes, sells their liquor out of separate storefronts within the store building, but creates a barrier of counter and cash registers that discourages shoplifting. Also, the employees have no mandate to let the thieves go, but to treat them as they would any petty thief trying to shoplift. Other stores employ their own methods of risk management, for instance, Costco routinely checks every shopper leaving the store, comparing their purchases to the receipt they were given.
As schools let out for holiday break shortly, the shoplifting is expected to surge. Everyone seems to be complaining about the problem, but only 30% of the voters can complain with credibility; we voted against the change in law because we fully expected the problems that closing down the state stores would create. We weren’t expecting Safeway to employ amnesty, but we expected higher prices, greater access to minors, increases in theft and the only benefit going to the stores that can now sell alcoholic beverages. We’ve gotten all of that in spades and about sixty percent of the state now wishes that the old state store distribution had been retained. As to putting it back into place, it’s just too expensive to do.
As a state, we did a lousy job of applying common sense when confronted with advertising pressure. We caved like a deflating souffle’ to what sounded good on the tip of the iceberg that is liquor sales. Had even the slightest glance been taken at the glossed over facts, no one with a brain would have allowed this change to occur. It seems to me that people don’t spend enough time playing the simple game “what’s wrong with this picture?”