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Cork Dork: Eastside Businesses Stock Up as Private Liquor Sales Start

Shoppers will start seeing liquor at local stores, including Costco in Woodinville, although the transition will be bumpy and gradual.

Initiative 1183, privatizing the sale of liquor, became law Friday, and area grocery stores are stocking up on liquor. Fanfare over the first day of private liquor sales in Washington state in nearly 80 years has been dampened slightly as major distributors still are sorting deliveries to retailers. Local stores expect complete deliveries in two to four weeks.

“After 78 years we finally have the end of prohibition,” said Joel Benoliel, senior vice president and chief legal officer at , which contributed a record $22.5 million to the campaign for I-1183.

Issaquah-based Costco will be carrying about 70 unique liquor labels at its Woodinville, Kirkland and Issaquah warehouse stores. Metropolitan Market in Kirkland, QFCs and Safeways around the Eastside, drug stores and other stores bigger than 10,000 square feet are also gradually stocking up on liquor.

Some business owners bought licenses to sell liquor previously owned by state-run liquor stores during an auction in April. The licenses will exempt the winning bidders from the 10,000-square-foot minimum required by I-1183.

Avijeet Ghose of Bellevue won the license for the former state liquor store at the 13000 block of N.E. 175th Street in Woodinville. He said he hopes to get the store open by June 2. More than 1,600 retailers have applied for liquor licenses, nearly five times the 350 or so state-run or contracted stores when the state was the exclusive liquor retailer.

Total Wine & More, the liquor mega retail chain based in Potomac, Md., will be opening its first store in Washington at the end of June at Wilburton Crossing in Bellevue at the former location of G.I. Joe’s and Larry’s Market. They plan on opening stores in Tukwila and Spokane next year.

Total Wine & More plans to hire around 40 staff to sell 8,000 wines, 3,000 spirits and 2,500 beers, according to Ed Cooper, vice president of public affairs and community relations for Total Wine & More.

“To those consumers who are looking for really cool craft imports, we are the place for that,” Cooper said.

Proponents of I-1183 overcame the last hurdle to privatization of liquor sales when the , May 31. Opponents of I-1183 argued that the initiative was unconstitutional because bills and initiatives are required to only address a single subject and the subject of the measure must be stated in the title.

In writing the majority decision Justice Steven Gonzalez stated that “the title of I-1183 was a general title, pertaining to the broad subject of ‘liquor.’” Justice Gonzalez also asserted the initiative’s use of the word “fees” rather than “taxes” did not mislead voters.

Justice Charles Wiggins, who wrote the dissenting opinion, argued that “the I-1183 drafters misled voters by describing the licensing fees as ‘fees’ rather than ‘taxes.’”

Friday is merely the first day of private liquor sales in Washington state. Many liquor industry professionals agree implementation will be gradual and the full effect won’t be felt for years.

“Three to five years down the road the consumer is going to look at it and see that this is a whole lot better than what we had before,” said Mike de Maar, a Redmond resident and founder and president of the wine and liquor distributor Vinum Wine Importing.

Wine Pick of the Week: 2011 J. Bookwalter Couplet Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay/Viognier

This blend of 61 percent Chardonnay and 39 percent Viognier from the cool 2011 vintage is the ideal pairing for grilled salmon or other fatty fish, just in time for grilling season. Winemaker John Bookwalter starts with quality fruit. Connor Lee consistently grows some of the best Chardonnay in Washington state. The fruit is fermented and aged in 100 percent stainless tanks, eschewing the use of oak barrels. The result is an elegant and balanced wine. Aromas of white flowers, lemon zest and Asian pears lead to a palate of honeydew melons, more Asian pears, green apples and Meyer lemons. The lithe acidity on the citrusy finish cuts through rich and oily salmon. The wine is available for $20 at the tasting room in Woodinville.

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