Washington State Sells Off Final 18 Liquor Stores

May 25, 2012

Earlier this month the State auctioned off the rights to sell liquor in their current stores. 167 licenses were sold, but 18 buyers fell through. Bidders either couldn’t come up with all the money, or struggled to work out lease conditions for the retail space. Thursday, a live auction sold the remaining 18 stores. Lesley McClurg reports.

Jas Sangha showed up right on time with his $10,000 deposit check in hand. Over three hundred people were already in line. Many were wearing turbans and speaking Indian languages.

They are a part Sangha’s community. He’s the leader in loose collective trying to buy up as many liquor stores as possible.

"My fear initially was that big businesses will all get into the liquor business," Sangha says. "I wanted to see more opportunities for smaller guys. And, we did reach out to many people different folks within our community."

There were also many Koreans in line. The two ethnic communities are partnering in hopes of competing against big box stores like Safeway and Costco.

The collective was successful in the first online auction. They pooled their resources together and bought over 80 of the 167 stores.

Pat McLaughlin works for the State Liquor Board. He has been leading the transition to a privatized system. He says he’s not surprised by the large turnout.

"These are 18 of our best stores," McLaughlin says. "They range from Vancouver to Bellingham, Ocean Shores to Spokane. They’re all very profitable. So, this is an opportunity for these entrepreneurs to have a piece of that action."

The bidding started and Jas Sangha stepped forward eagerly. He had his hopes set on a store in Enumclaw. It sold for $259,000 in the online auction. Jas hoped to snag it for around $50,000.

But, he only raised his paddle once. The store sold for $310,000 -- $50,000 more than in the earlier auction. Almost all of the 18 stores sold for more than their earlier bids.

"My calculation to make any money from my investment they went over double the price so I thought there was no point to buying it," says Pintu Bett. "So I just keep my hand down."

Both Sangha and Bett went home empty handed.

The big winner was the State. The liquor board exceeded their original goal by over $1 million. The total from both auctions was over $30 million.

The State will officially step out of the liquor business on May 31st.

Copyright 2012 KUOW