Goldie McCrae, left, checks out a customer Tuesday afternoon at La Grande Liquor. The store’s owner, Dee Myers, has concerns about proposed ballot initiatives that she says will negatively affect customers and non-consumers alike. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Dee Myers says initiatives proposed by grocers would only benefit large grocery stores
While a bill introduced by the Oregon Legislature is unlikely to put liquor on the shelves of grocery stores, a local liquor store owner is concerned a ballot initiative might.
The Legislature put a legislative effort a couple weeks ago to privatize liquor sales or implement a hybrid system on hold and instead opted to create a task force to look into the matter.
Grocers, though, have been clear about their intent to get an initiative on the ballot.
Dee Myers, owner of La Grande Liquor & Smoke Shoppe and Baker City Liquor Store, says the initiatives proposed by grocers would benefit only grocery stores larger than 10,000 square feet and harm independent stores like hers.
“There are no controls for public safety,” Myers said of the initiatives. “Public safety is huge to me as a mother, as a citizen.”
Noting that tobacco is contained in grocery stores, Myers said privatization initiatives should seek to address alcohol in the same way to limit access, especially for minors. An increased availability of liquor, Myers said, also brings an increase in theft.
Since Washington privatized liquor in 2011, at least one study has found a dramatic increase in liquor thefts, particularly among youth. The study, headed by research scientist Julia Dilley and Linda Becker, a researcher for the Washington Department of Human Services, says youth also expressed an increased acceptance of drinking. Myers says that attitude change is big for children who see liquor in the grocery store next to bread.
“It seems like a small thing, but it’s huge,” she said.
Her concerns, though, are not limited to the under-21 population. She says privatization as proposed in initiatives would devastate small, independently-owned liquor stores.
“It would put me out of business. I would guess 50 percent of liquor stores in Oregon would go out of business,” she said. “We’re mom and pops.”
Between Myers’ two stores, she employs six part-time employees and six full-time employees.
The owner said the initiatives are not pro-small business, would close smaller stores and limit the selection because groceries would likely only shelf the top 100 to 150 products.
About 30 percent of Myers’ sales come from specialty products, for cooking or holiday traditions.
“Those products will not be available,” she said.
Myers said even non-drinkers have reason to worry about the initiatives. More than $390 million in revenue was collected by the state in the 2011-2013 biennium from liquor sales. Of that, $236,000 was allocated to Union County during the biennium, according to state data. Baker County was allocated more than $145,000. La Grande received more than $340,000 during the same time frame while Baker City was allocated more than $250,000.
Myers says that is revenue the state simply cannot make up.
“These initiatives are devastating,” she said. “If we want to privatize, let’s do it the right way.”
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