Liquor in stores tomorrow; caps may thwart booze thieves

May 31, 2012

A huge shift takes place tomorrow when we’ll be able to walk into a Fred Meyer or Safeway and walk out with a bottle of gin. But if you walk out without paying, beware. You may trigger an alarm. 

It's just like when you buy a pair of jeans and the clerk snaps off a security tag so you don’t beep when you exit the store. Now when you go buy a bottle of booze, you may see something similar. The device is like a thick plastic sheath that covers the top of the bottle, and it’s designed to make thieves think twice.

In the new liquor department of West Seattle Thriftway, gleaming bottles of rum and tequila are lined up carefully, all topped with a plastic security cap. Store director Brian Bixenman says he wanted to protect such expensive inventory, and also make sure it wasn't getting into the wrong hands.

"Just a precaution, a deterrent, so that people coming in that shouldn't be buying it or underage people hopefully won't try to steal it,"  Bixenman said.

If you want to buy a bottle, a clerk unlocks it for you at the checkout stand by tapping the top of the bottle against a metal opener the size of a hockey puck. Magnets inside the opener release the lock.

But Bixenman says don't try sneaking in your own magnet to pop off the lock. Regular old magnets won’t work. And he says good luck to people who think they can yank the cap off with sheer brute strength.

"They have to have some kind of tool to get it off there," Bixenman said. "If they try to break it, it's going to probably break the bottle also."

Not all stores plan to use them. Metropolitan Market won’t. Fred Meyer and QFC will.

Bixenman says West Seattle Thriftway did some research and decided security caps were a wise investment. He says it’s all part of the learning curve as supermarkets like his start selling whiskey and tequila along with yogurt and bananas.

The Washington Supreme Court upheld the voter-approved initiative privatizing liquor sales today. Consequently, stores larger than 10,000 square feet and some smaller stores will begin selling liquor on Friday.