The time may soon come when Oregon residents can purchase liquor in grocery stores.
After years of only being able to purchase liquor at liquor stores and beer and wine at grocery outlets, the two may become mutually available. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) has been working on providing hard alcohol in grocery stores.
The OLCC has passed a test program that would allow a select amount of grocery stores to sell liquor. This program was designed to see what the exact ramifications would be should liquor be made available in grocery outlets all across the state. Also under consideration is what would happen when beer and wine were offered at liquor stores.
Christie Scott, public affairs specialist at OLCC, says,
“The test project is two-fold. Part of this test project is to allow four [liquor stores] to sell beer and wine. The other part of it is to allow four corporations to be retail sales agents [of liquor].”
As for how far along the tests are coming, Scott made sure to make it clear that this is an ongoing process.
“Where we’ve already gone forward with the four liquor stores that could sell beer and wine, as far as the corporations… we have not had any corporations apply.”
Though no corporations have applied for this process, Scott also made sure to reference the fact that the license does not just go to the highest bidder.
“What it is, when we have an opening [for a liquor store], and we have people or corporations applying to be liquor agents — you still have to put forward a business plan and our board of commissioners will have to approve that plan. It’s up to the five commissioners who gets the contract.”
Scott compared the process of applying to be a liquor agent to that of a job interview. From the looks of it, she is correct. A corporation must demonstrate that they are the best suitor for the license, regardless of what type of business they run. Scott adds,
“It wouldn’t even have to be a grocery store.”
This would mean that companies such as Target and Walmart could potentially sell liquor if they demonstrated that they were the best fit for the job.
Currently, the state of Oregon has made liquor available at grocery outlets through the store-within-a-store process. Scott says,
“Right now we have the store-within-a-store. There’s a liquor store inside a major grocery store. It’s kind of like a Starbucks or a bank that you would see within a store.”
This model has begun to pave the way for further integration between liquor and the grocery outlets. For now, individuals with an Oregon liquor license must rent or lease the space within a grocery store in order for liquor to be distributed on the stores’ premises.
For many Oregonians, watching Washington’s process of privatizing liquor has been interesting. Washington was the first of the two states to sell alcohol in their grocery stores — a decision that has been met with mixed reviews.
While liquor and alcohol have become much more available, liquor prices have increased. This has led many consumers to debate as to whether or not the privatization of liquor was beneficial. Scott states,
“We’ve been working on this modernizing process way before Washington became privatized. We’re not doing it as a response to what is happening in Washington.”
Whereas Washington has a select amount of liquor available in multiple stores, Scott made sure to point out that the quality and selection of Oregon liquor stores is what will keep them going through this modernization process.
“We have about 250 stores selling liquor in Oregon. You get your local Oregon spirits, your cordials, your small selection types of things that you can buy here that you’re not going to find at the big box stores.”
One of the main concerns surrounding the incorporation of liquor into retail stores has been a concern over an increase in price, as was seen in the state of Washington. On this topic, Scott made sure to emphasize that Oregon would not be following the Washington model. Scott says,
“Right now, Oregon has uniform pricing throughout the state. Allowing the grocery store to be a liquor agent would not change that. It would still be the same price. It would still be the store-within-a-store model. [But] the grocery store would be running it instead of them leasing the space to somebody else.”
Another reason for concern comes from small convenience stores. Some of these stores oppose the idea of beer and wine being available in liquor stores because they see it as a potential for a huge loss in their business. These smaller stores do not have the stock to compete with grocery stores and liquor stores at the same time in terms of the products they offer.
Yet another opposition to this process stems from large grocery stores who are calling for a more significant change to the liquor laws in the state of Oregon. Proponents (such as Safeway and Albertsons) have stated that much more needs to be done to modernize Oregon’s liquor laws.
In fact, the Northwest Grocery Assocation has told the Oregon government that an update to the system was needed. If Oregon does not update the system, says this association, they will push an initiative that would privatize liquor in Oregon, much like what occurred in the state of Washington.
Though there is no time frame as to when this process will be completed, Scott said that the consumers and people were the greatest concern when trying to make liquor available in retail stores.
“It’s something we think we need to do to be able to serve our customers better.”