Contrary to the headline of Scott Kraus’ piece on alcohol reform in Washington, it sounds to me like it’s been hugely successful at creating precisely the kind of retail alcohol economy I would like to see in Pennsylvania. Big chains carry all the basic popular brands and local favorites, while specialty liquor stores in the bigger metros carry the rare fancy brands, where there’s a market for that stuff. Some small stores find it hard to compete on price with the huge retailers, as they should. The small stores that do well compete with the large retailers on quality, on selection, not price:
A year ago, if Tom Dieker wanted to pick up a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka, he had to drive to one of the small state stores near his suburban Seattle home.
Now, almost eight months after Washington state sold off those stores, chances are he can find it at his local Safeway supermarket, one of roughly 1,700 private retailers now selling liquor in the state.
“If you want just sort of a popular brand, you can find it at grocery stores now,” said Dieker, 46, vice president of sales for a consulting firm. “If you want a really nice bottle of scotch, something not so run-of-the-mill, there are some nice wine and liquor stores.”
The finding that the average price of a liter of liquor has gone up a bit doesn’t tell us nearly as much as you might think at first glance. Has liquor quality also gone up as more niche stores have opened in the bigger metros, carrying fancier products? And in public health terms, is it a bad thing if alcohol prices go up a bit? I don’t think so.