For BettyJo Rankin, the passage of I-1183 by voters last week, which closes all state liquor stores and legalizes the sale of liquor by large private retailers, is a double-edged sword.
Rankin has owned and operated Buckley Wine & Spirits in Buckley for 10 years, but because the Washington State Liquor Control Board considers hers a contract liquor store, she does not have a liquor license. Additionally, the inventory she carries is not her own -- it's the state's, and according to Brian Smith, a Board spokesman, each contract store carries about $125,000 in inventory at a time.
"We had such a great safety net with the state," she said. "They were wonderful to work with."
Once the transition is complete, Rankin said she'll need to purchase a liquor license as well as her own inventory. And she'll be doing a lot more paperwork associated with the sale of liquor.
"There's a lot more work involved and we'll be a lot more vulnerable," she said. "We'll have more competition. ... We're not as experienced with purchasing and finding places from where we can purchase. We're kind of on our own now."
The perception might be that with the passage of the initiative, she'll truly be her own independent businesswoman and happily operate in the free market, but it's not that simple. "It's definitely not like 'great, we can be our own boss now,'" she said. "We have a lot more uncertainty about our distribution. And we don't have the buying power that a self-distributing business would, like Safeway or Costco."
Already, Rankin has laid off one employee ahead of the transition. She said she hopes to be able to keep her other three as long as she can and is doing her best to stay on top of developments at state level.
She is a part of a team of contract managers who are working with the Liquor Board on the transition. There is a lot of uncertainty now for everyone from distributors to the Liquor Board itself to distillers. "The three-tiered system was done away with by this legislation," she said. "And there's national implications no one has addressed yet."
Many who own contract stores are husband/wife teams and so a lot of households are also affected, she said.
Rankin said she hopes she can stay open because she values the purpose her store serves in the community.
"We've been lucky to have a personal relationship with our customers," she said. "We've been here so long that our customers are also uncertain and they're asking a lot of questions about if we'll still be here."
Her staff consists of working parents who enjoy the part-time work so that they can be close to home and care for their children, and she worries for them. "I do try to keep the business open for them too. We have a great team. Hopefully, all of our fears will be unwarranted and we'll be so busy we'll have to add on staff."
Meanwhile, Rankin said she also sympathizes with the employees of the , who are among the 900 or so state employees who will lose their jobs once the transition to the private sector is complete in mid-2012.
"We work closely with them," she said.
Heather Fensch, the manager at the Enumclaw store, declined to comment about her staff or the initiative but did indicate that the store is run by one full-time employee and three part-timers.
According to Smith, all state liquor stores will end retail sales by May 31, 2012.
For more information about the Liquor Board's transitional plan, click here to visit its website.