Local liquor store owner finds success in a difficult market

Local liquor store owner finds success in a difficult market

SPOKANE, Wash. - It's been two years since private retailers started selling liquor in Washington state and the change has caused higher prices on liquor and higher fees for those selling it.

Former state-run small volume liquor stores have been closing their doors statewide since the privatization and the ones that are still open took a huge hit in revenue.

Mark Bahr says he feels lucky his store is still in business, but it has come with a price.

"I could have just given up, but I love this business," said Bahr.

Bahr has been the owner of Medical Lake Liquor & Wine for 7 years. Before the privatization his store was contracted to the state.

"We were tasked with managing the states inventory so we were a commissioned sales staff. We got paid based on our sales," said Bahr.

Since the change Bahr's sales took a40-45% hit, and running his store comes with some new costs.

Now Bahr buys all of the liquor himself and then sells it, but, in order to do that, he has to pay a 17 percent retail sales fee.

"I have to make up for that the only place I can and that's in the product that I sell," said Bahr.

So while small volume stores like Bahr's are hiking up their prices to cover the fees, big box stores are able to spread out that 17% onto their entire inventory, keeping their liquor prices lower.

This has caused more than 50 former state run stores to close in the past two years, so how does Bahr keep his open?

"I'm extremely lucky that the closest other retailer that sells liquor is about seven or eight miles from here," said Bahr.

He also caters to his customers, selling local wines and specialty liquors you can't find in big box stores and by taking special orders.

"These you're not going to find at Safeway or Walmart because they don't have the high turnover those stores are looking for," said Bahr.

Even though Bahr is not struggling, the 17% retail fee still causes him a big loss in profit. He and several other store owners are working together by reaching out to lawmakers to make small volume stores exempt from the fee.