Row over grocery store booze persists

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Associated Liquor Stores of Oregon, whichrepresents nearly half of the state’s 239 liquor stores, isstrongly opposed to a state plan to let a handful of supermarketsin urban areas sell booze on a trial basis, lobbyists for the grouptestified at a Tuesday public hearing.

“We are concerned that once implemented, it will be difficult toremove these pilot stores and this experiment could be the catalystleading to the collapse of Oregon’s control system,” said MarshallCoba, a lobbyist for the association, which has about 100members.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has proposed allowing up tosix grocery stores in urban areas to sell hard liquor for atwo-year test period. The program is intended to increase liquorsales in the state by making purchases more convenient, while stillkeeping alcohol out of the hands of minors and intoxicated people.Only three stores have signed up so far – a Lamb’s Thriftway and aQFC, both in Portland, and Ray’s Food Place in Bend.

Those stores will be required to have an area separated by fourwalls from the main grocery area, with its own cash register andsales help. OLCC is estimating those retailers will have $1 millionin annual liquor sales.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake worriedthat selling liquor in grocery stores is a dangerous step towardprivatization of liquor sales in Oregon.

With the pilot program, he said, “The camel is getting his noseunder the tent. … I think this is headed in the wrongdirection.”

Gale Lasko, a partner and general manager of Lamb’s Markets,which owns the Lamb’s Thriftway participating in the pilot program,was enthusiastically supportive of it.

“This is a win-win-win situation – a win for the Oregon LiquorControl Commission, a win for Lamb’s Market and a win for thecustomers,” he said.

Paul Cosgrove of the Distilled Spirits Council of the UnitedStates, a national trade association for manufacturers andsuppliers of distilled spirits, said there was no evidence thatselling liquor in grocery stores results in any increase ofunderage drinking, drunken driving or alcohol abuse.

“There is no statistical difference in alcohol-related trafficfatalities, underage alcohol-related traffic accidents, bingedrinking rates or alcohol-related mortality rates between the 25states that allow spirits grocery store sales and those who donot,” Cosgrove said.

Paul Romain, an attorney for the Oregon Beer & WineDistributors Association, said he didn’t understand why the rulechange was necessary to allow grocery stores to sell liquor.

More than 80 of Oregon’s 239 liquor stores are authorized tosell groceries and other items, but they are in rural areas. Thepilot program would put liquor in grocery stores in urbanareas.

But Romain remained skeptical about the program.

“We do not think this model will work unless it somehowgenerates increased foot traffic (in grocery stores),” Romainsaid.

Judy Cushing, president of Oregon Partnership, a nonprofitorganization dedicated to prevention of substance abuse, warnedthat putting liquor in grocery stores would make it easier forminors to get access to it.

“Do not pour gasoline on the fire of underage drinking,” Cushingsaid.