Wash. auctioning off liquor licenses from its soon-to-close stores

Mar 9, 2012

You won’t hear the gavel sound at this auction. But you may want to pay attention anyway since the fate of your neighborhood liquor store may figure in. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has  opened an online auction as part of the next step toward liquor privatization.

Are you looking to start a small business? Perhaps a unique, mom-and-pop sort of place with a specialty inventory? Pat McLaughlin has a store he wants to sell you.

McLaughlin is with the Washington State Liquor Control Board. The store itself isn’t for sale. What is on the auction block is the exclusive rights for a liquor license at current liquor store locations. There are 167 locations available around the state, and most are in urban areas.

Even though the stores will compete with the likes of Costco and Safeway, McLaughlin says the small stores are unique because they carry a large inventory with  with local products and specialty imports.

McLaughlin says bids started rolling in within hours of the auction’s start. The auction runs for 45 days and bids will be accepted on a single store, multiple stores or the entire store network. This means your local liquor store could be owned by an individual entrepreneur or a chain. 

And the changeover will happen fast – lights go out on state-run liquor stores on May 31 and the privately-run shops could open in June.  All revenue received through the auction goes to the State’s general fund. The auction continues despite a court hearing which is scheduled for March 19 to determine whether the liquor privatization initiative can be overturned.