KENNEWICK, Wash.- This past Saturday marked one year since Washington liquor stores were privatized. Total liquor sales are up across the state, but small liquor store owners say they are struggling to survive.
Sales are steady at Mid-Columbia Wine and Spirits, but prices are up. For the owners of the store, taxes are killing business.
"We have sunk all of our life savings into this business and what we didn't know was the state was going to be greedy on this and have all kinds of hidden taxes," said Rajiv Malhan, a Co-Owner of Mid- Columbia Wine and Spirits.
If you pick up a bottle of vodka at the store it's price tag says $13, but by the time you get to the cash register it's going to be more like $18.50. The owners of the store say, after taxes they're only making about 30 cents on that one bottle. They've had to cut their work force by more than half. While taxes are forcing cutbacks, the State Liquor Control Board says the people of Washington knew what they were getting into.
"They did, voters enacted when they voted for (initiative) 1183 that included that 17% retail fee and the 10% distributor fee," said Brian Smith, a spokesperson for the board.
Distributors only paid a total of $150 million in fees this year. They can sell their product at lower prices to restaurants, but the small businesses say that leaves no room for them to be competitive.
"It looks like our state is more inclined to help big corporations than the small business owners," said Malhan.
The 17% tax for stores is what raises the price. Now customers are saying it may not be worth it.
"I just wish it were cheaper, I definitely don't buy as much alcohol as I used to," said Washington resident and consumer David Hanes.
While there are multiple forms of legislation proposed to give tax relief to the small businesses, the local owners say it can't come soon enough. Mid-Columbia Wine and Spirits is currently in the hole about 5-20 thousand dollars a month.