Capitol Hill’s only independent liquor store? Central Co-op weighs booze biz


RK, originally uploaded by Blinking Charlie.

Madison’s Central Co-op is trying to decide if it wants to join the six+ retailers planning to sell booze on Capitol Hill after the June 1st transition to privatized spirit sales in Washington.

As we reported earlier, the co-op has submitted an application to receive a spirits retailing license but is still weighing whether it will put the license to use. On one hand, it would represent an uncertain market for the 34-year-old co-op. On the other, Central could represent one of the few independent entities that would qualify to retail spirits under the provisions of Initiative 1183.

In true co-operative style, Central has posted an “advisory survey” for members to provide feedback on the proposal:


Washington State voters approved Initiative 1183 by 57.7% when the initiative appeared on the November 8, 2011 statewide ballot. The measure called for closing state liquor stores and allowing state licensing of private parties. Central Co-op fulfills the requirements necessary to legally sell spirits as of June 1, 2012.

Central Co-op believes this is an opportunity to bolster our mission of supporting the local economy by selling spirits made in local micro-distilleries. With big-box stores vying to gain an edge in the spirits market, we are in a unique position to lend support to the smaller local businesses that may otherwise have challenges finding shelf space in conventional stores.

We will not displace food items to make space to sell spirits. We have identified space in the Wine Department that is suitable for merchandising spirits, minimizing impact to wine selection. We will establish appropriate security measures for storage and sales.

We have made contact with the following micro-distilleries:

  • Bainbridge Organic Distillers
  • Skiprock Distillers – Snohomish County
  • Fremont Mischief Distillery
  • Woodinville Whiskey Company
  • Sun Liquor Seattle – Capitol Hill
  • Pacific Distillery – Woodinville
  • Oola Distillery – Capitol Hill
  • Sound Spirits – Georgetown
  • Dry Fly Distillery – Spokane 

As a consumer cooperative, we exist to provide our owners with the goods and services they desire, to fulfill the Co-op’s purpose and mission. The Board of Trustees and Product Issues Committee have requested that we survey the owners for feedback on this question, and the Grocery Department wants your input.

This is an advisory survey, not a binding vote. All input will be carefully considered. Please take a moment to let us know what you think. For consideration, please provide your input by Monday, April 30. If you have specific questions regarding this proposal, please speak with Info Central or e-mail info@centralcoop.coop. Thanks!

Meanwhile, auctions for the rights to apply to continue operating at the location of the state’s liquor stores on Capitol Hill continue.

In March, we posted this map of the dozens of grocery stores and drug stores applying for the spirits license. Since we created that record, many more have applied including most Bartell’s – including the one above QFC at Pike/Broadway — and Rite Aid stores in the area. Nearly all are local outlets of national and regional chains. One Capitol Hill chain location that is not applying is the Rite Aid at Broadway and E Olive Way. We’re checking with company representatives to try to find out why. The store has applied, however, to begin selling beer and wine.

28 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s only independent liquor store? Central Co-op weighs booze biz

  1. I’m a member of the co-op and am very leery of this. Madison Natural Market (Central Co-op) was the first certified organic retailer in the state. Almost every item sold there is organic, which is why members go there to begin with. We can shop with security while not having to scrutinize every last damn product we pick up, unlike every other store on the Hill. Unless the co-op only introduces organic spirits, this change goes completely against their historical mission.

  2. Not everything at the co-op is organic, not by a longshot. There is certainly a higher percentage than most stores, but it’s by no means ubiquitous. That is just one focus of many, the other being items that are locally produced or crafted. It doesn’t get much more local than the OOLA Distillery that’s about 3 blocks from the co-op. Additionally all distilleries in Washington are required to source 51% of their ingredients from within Washington state (and most do far more). This clearly falls within the product mission of the co-op. Just look at the wine & beer sections, there are some organic items, but the rest are selected primarily because they are locally produced or simply a high quality product developed by a company whose values and mission align with ours. If the liquor selection was entirely Washington spirits it would be the most in line with the co-ops product guidelines of any of the alcohol sections.

  3. While some hippies will get their hemp undies in a bunch over this and pelt the co-op with sternly-worded, self-entitled letters, it seems to be the kind of thing that would fit within the Co-op’s mission.

    That said, the quality of a lot of these local micro-distilleries is pretty marginal. Oola’s? Puh-leeze. Sun? Whatever. Hopefully some of these local distilleries are able to develop quality artisanal product over time, but a lot won’t. Artisanal distilleries like Clear Creek (Portland) and St. George (Alameda, CA) have been refining their craft for decades. What Capitol Hill could really use is not half a dozen chain stores selling the same mass produced industrial swill, but a high-end, well curated shop focusing on quality, distilled spirits – REGARDLESS of where it was made.

  4. I agree – I think most if not all of the produce is organic (which is great), but there’s plenty of non-organic products elsewhere. I’m all for supporting local businesses, and it totally fits in with the co-op mission. I’m all for it (and I’m a member).

  5. I’ll finally stop shopping at this place. It’s too expensive and not really worth it overall. The stock isn’t very consistent. Great fruit and nice people but that’s about it.

    One day I was straight up with the cashier when I got asked for the 100th time if I was a member, “I refuse to support your radical anti-Dr Pepper agenda.” She stared at me for a minute and said it was the funniest thing she’d heard all day.

  6. I think this fits very well with the overall purpose of the store. Especially on that small, local scale. Obviously MOST of their beer/wine is not organic, so that is a non-issue. In fact, they sell PBR there.

  7. I guess it’s a matter of taste. I certainly agree that Oola is nothing special, and Dry Fly is downright questionable.

    But did you know that all three of Sun’s entries took medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition? There’s no category there for “small,” “local,” or “ artisanal,” so they were going up against both established craft distillers and mass-market mega brands. Their vodka took double gold, their gins gold and silver. I don’t care if Clear Creek or St. George have been doing this forever. So has Absolut, and it doesn’t intrinsically make their product superior.

  8. I would suggest to the Co-Op that, if one of their goals in contacting those micro distilleries is to increase the availability of local liquor, they take a close look at what the micro distilleries are putting in their bottles.

    As an example, Fremont Mischief whiksey is not a local product. It is imported Canadian whiskey, rebottled under a “local” label. Hate to burst your bubble, but this sort of thing is fairly common among the so-called micro distilleries. So is the general practice of selling rotgut, regardless of where it’s made, at a premium markup.

    Caveat emptor, baby. Local isn’t necessarily what you think it is. Unless, of course, the “locavores” are primarily interested in the illusion. Not that this would ever happen among the hipsters of Seattle, right?

  9. “What Capitol Hill could really use is not half a dozen chain stores selling the same mass produced industrial swill, but a high-end, well curated shop focusing on quality, distilled spirits – REGARDLESS of where it was made.”

    Yes, please. The state store on 12th does an *OK* job at stocking at least some of the liqueurs, amaro, smaller distilleries, etc. that one wouldn’t find at a Safeway/QFC/etc. Would love to see someone take that one step further, swipe up one of these auction licenses and go the “boutique” route (something like Cask in SF: http://www.caskstore.com ).

    That said, hey, QFC is currently, laughably, one of the best (if not the best) beer bottle shops on the hill. Maybe they’ll get a good booze buyer.

  10. “That said, hey, QFC is currently, laughably, one of the best (if not the best) beer bottle shops on the hill. Maybe they’ll get a good booze buyer.”

    Talk to Brian, one of the wine and beer buyers at the Broadway QFC. He’s excited about liquor. He’s pretty knowledgable. He wants to know what we want, and says that if he’s got requests, QFC gives him a pretty free reign to bring what his customers want into the store. Every conversation I’ve had with the guys there so far has made me think they’ll apply the same balance of popularity, price range, and niche/specialty offerings to liquor that they do to beer.

  11. What new definition of “independant” doesn’t result in including Bartell’s drug stores? Does having locations in three Puget Sound counties now count as being an outlet of a regional or national chain? It is still a locally owned company that is almost entirely located in King county and Seattle with a handful of exceptions in Snohomish and Pierce counties.

    Is the “independant” just a euphamism for local companies that arent successful enough to own more than one location? Does Town & Country / Central Market not count as independant either because they have locations in Ballard, Shoreline, Mill Creek, and Poulsbo?

  12. This is exactly why I voted for this!

    I could care less about the plastic bottled swill that will show up at Safeway et al.

    I am excited about co-ops and the specialty shops that will soon show up. There is opportunity for new customers here or those of us that don’t visit the co-op as often as we should.

  13. Funny, I thought Oola has tasted amazing and was completely disappointed with Sun. I guess it is all just a matter of taste, the awesome thing is that we have these places at all!!! Def. support local booze at local co-ops.

  14. @chud – I hear ya. There isn’t anything close to Cask (or even K&L Wines) for buying craft spirits up here. I’m a former NorCal resident – and I’m jonesing for anything even close to that. Hell, a BevMo would be an immense improvement over what this state offers. WA drinkers have been living in booze boondocks all these years. A Cask would KILL on Cap Hill.

    @dan – if you knew anything about spirits, you’d know the SF World Spirits Competition gives away medals for just showing up and not farting. (similar to most wine competitions). Silver and gold meals at SF Spirits is essentially meaningless. They gave our EIGHT double golds for vodka alone – including a vodka from effing Mongolia. And you know who won best gin this year at SF? Tanqueray. I know St George and Clear Creek are top of class because I’ve been drinking their product for years. Steve McCarthy and Jorg Rupf are effing LEGENDS in the craft distillery industry. They’re the flicking Fritz Maytags of craft spirits.

  15. Absolutely. Their wine section is great, thanks to a succession of abled people in that department. If they could get some decent potato vodka from Poland in addition to the local wares I’d be set!

  16. BevMo would definitely be a huge improvement (locavore concerns aside).

    I know little about the actual business/government side, but hell yes, a solid, knowledgeable, and well-curated spirits joint on the hill would rake in the dough. At least my dough. Which I guess ain’t much.

    The booze thing is backwards up here, indeed. Baby steps.

  17. “Def. support local booze at local co-ops.”

    ——

    Better be sure it’s really local. With a lot of this stuff, the only thing that’s “local” is the brand and the business office. You know, kind of like the iPods and iPads that are built by happy Chinese slaves.

  18. We actually won’t see many specialty shops most likely because of the lame square footage requirement in the law that requires you to be grocery store size in order to sell liquor. The only possibility for a smaller venue is people buying up the current state liquor stores since those locations get grandfathered in.

  19. Not sure if you’re aware but Tom and I work together on CDN — maybe you are :) Anyway, I’m interested — tell me more about what you mean. Any specific examples?