The OLCC allows beer and wine in state stores if they apply for an expanded license

by: BILL MINTIENS - Prineville Liquor Store manager Cari Nelson likes the idea, but has not applied for the extended license at this point.

In a move designed to make the state-licensed liquor stores more competitive and meet consumer demand, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) has given the go-ahead for its stores to begin selling beer and wine if they apply for an expanded license and have the retail space.

Last year, the OLCC conducted a test project with four Oregon liquor stores, allowing them to sell beer and wine. According to OLCC data, revenues at those four outlets rose an average of 12 percent compared to the 7.8 percent statewide figure.

Regionally, both Washington and California allow liquor and grocery stores to sell beer, wine, and liquor. Up to this point, Oregon has held to what some have referred to as a “post-Prohibition Era model” of liquor sales.

Oregon liquor stores are privately owned and are licensed by the OLCC. Control is strict. Stores cannot sell any other form of alcohol without an OLCC license. Store owners, or “liquor agents” as the OLCC refers to them, keep a percentage of each sale. The OLCC buys and sells virtually all “spirits” in the state.

Cari Nelson, Manager of the Prineville Liquor Store, likes the idea of also selling beer and wine.

“Personally I think it would be awesome, particularly during the tourist season. I don’t know exactly what we’d offer at this point, however, because we haven’t applied for that wider license yet. The earliest we could do this would be next year because we have to address our space issue. We don’t have a lot of room to add beer and wine.”

Statewide, the OLCC is beginning to receive inquiries about the expanded license.

“We have had less than a dozen inquiries about it at this point — but I know there's been some strong interest," said Rob Partridge, Chairman of the OLCC's Board.

So how might this change affect Prineville-area grocery, pharmacy, and convenience stores? As it turns out not much at this point.

The Northwest Grocery Association (NWGA), which represents the retailers, wholesalers, brokers, manufacturers and suppliers that support the Pacific Northwest's $70 billion dollar grocery industry, is working to try to get liquor sales privatized.

Joe Gilliam, NWGA’s president, is working on an initiative for the 2014 ballot that would allow his members to sell liquor in their stores - just like Washington state passed in 2012.

“We’re in the middle of doing our homework to see if we can make this work and we’re already halfway there,” said Gilliam recently.

Scott Michael, store manager at Wagner’s Price Slasher market in Prineville likes the idea of adding liquor to the store.

“I don’t think it would be a bad thing (if the regulations change) but I’d want to separate it from the general store products, from the “family” items. I’ve worked in grocery stores in California and seen it work well there so I think it would work well here too.”

The Rite Aid store in Prineville just expanded its wine section and feels that adding liquor would be a logical step.

“We just expanded our wine and beer section dramatically. Our stores in Washington are now selling liquor as well as wine and beer. If the regulations change here in Oregon and we, as well as the Prineville Liquor Store, begin to sell liquor I don’t think the competition will affect us very much because we’re pretty competitive price-wise.”

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