Federal Way Rite Aid stays dry in private liquor's first week

The shelves are void of alcohol at Rite Aid, 32015 Pacific Highway S., Federal Way. The pharmacy
The shelves are void of alcohol at Rite Aid, 32015 Pacific Highway S., Federal Way. The pharmacy's liquor license was suspended after the store was caught furnishing alcohol to a minor.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror

Rite Aid pharmacy in Federal Way sold alcohol to a minor back in April. Now the store sits on the sidelines as private retailers cash in on new liquor laws.

The State Liquor Control Board suspended the pharmacy's license for seven days, effective June 1 to June 8. Private retailers statewide began selling liquor June 1.

The pharmacy, located at South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South, is banned from selling or stocking alcohol during the suspension. Two rows of shelves that once carried beer, wine and liquor now sit bare. An orange sign, posted on the cooler's sliding glass doors, says the establishment violated state law by furnishing liquor to a minor.

A sting operation April 18 by the liquor board led to the license suspension. The board routinely deploys officers to enforce liquor and tobacco laws statewide.

A 17-year-old girl volunteered for the compliance check. As instructed, she bought a 16-ounce aluminum bottle of Coors Light. The clerk checked the girl's identification, which stated she was born in 1994. "I did the math wrong," the clerk said in the report.

In 2011, the state's voters approved Initiative 1183, allowing private retailers to sell and distribute hard liquor. Previously, all liquor sales were handled by state-run stores. Costco spent millions to pass the initiative.

Consumers have experienced sticker shock since the new law took effect. When the initiative passed last November, lower liquor prices were expected as a result of competition among retailers. The opposite has happened. Grocery stores, pharmacies and other stores are selling liquor at higher prices than when the state sold it.

One explanation is that the state imposes a 17 percent fee on retailers and a 10 percent fee on distributors. Retailers pass those fees on to consumers through markups.

State sales tax for liquor is 20.5 percent — much higher than the standard sales tax of 9.5 percent for general purchases. The state also charges a tax of $3.77 per liter of liquor. Prices listed on private shelves often fail to include these taxes, leaving customers to discover the higher cost upon checkout.

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