Oregon approves ‘largest liquor expansion since Prohibition’


August 27, 2015

Oregon approves ‘largest liquor expansion since Prohibition’
By Ian Kullgren

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission voted Thursday to add as many as 17 liquor stores in the Portland area, a decision agency director Rob Patridge called “the largest liquor expansion since Prohibition.”

The expansion allows for new stores in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. It also clears the way for businesses models beyond the traditional liquor-only store, allowing for outlets in places such as grocery and convenience stores.

“What we’re doing is allowing the market to come to us with innovation,” Patridge said. “It’s an opportunity for people to come to us with creative ideas for liquor stores.”

The agency said the change will give customers more access and raise more tax revenue for the state. Oregon has 248 approved liquor stores, or one for every 16,000 residents, according to the commission. That compares with one for every 12,000 residents 30 years ago.

The ratio is even more skewed in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas Counties, which together have 68 stores — one for every 25,000 residents.

“I think the population growth kind of speaks for itself,” said Bruce Randall, who owns two liquor stores in Portland, one on Northwest 23rd Place and one on Southwest Capitol Highway. “Anything that expands and modernizes our retail system is positive.”

The commission highlighted 15 Zip codes that have “significant” populations but no liquor stores. They include parts of Southwest Portland near Highway 26, Northwest Portland near Forest Park, Northeast Portland near Portland International Airport, and Southeast Portland between 122nd and 202nd avenues.

Liquor sales raised more than $400 million for the state in 2013-15. But some worry the change will hurt existing stores without increasing revenue.

“If they put one near me, it’s going to kill me, and then what am I going to do?” said Terry Neddeau, who owns Tigard Liquor Store on Southwest Main Street in Tigard. “It’s not going to make more revenue. … You’re not going to attract new drinkers because you open up a new store. It’s stupid and it’s wrong.”

Marshall A. Coba, a lobbyist for the Associated Liquor Stores of Oregon, said the commission’s data doesn’t necessarily show that consumers are having a hard time finding liquor.

“The current system works well,” Coba said. “It works well for the liquor stores. It works well for the consumers. It works well for the distillers. This is such a big change for liquor store owners without much input. We’re worried.”

Supporters of an abandoned 2014 ballot push to privatize liquor sales, backed by Northwest grocers, argued that store limits make it hard for some customers to find liquor. They wanted sales widely allowed in grocery stores and other outlets.

“I think that one of the big concerns these grocers brought out is customer convenience … that’s been addressed by legislators, that’s been addressed by other people,” Patridge said. “The OLCC is attempting to be fleet afoot.”

But Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, said the group is still considering a ballot measure for 2016. In the meantime, he’s cautioning businesses not to support or join the new program.

“We’re considering privatization again, so it would be ill-advised to move forward,” Gilliam said. “Their model is very old and archaic and expensive.”

Some of the new stores could be inside other businesses. Some such joint businesses operate in eastern Oregon, and Patridge would like to see some in the Portland area.

Officials hope to have the expansion completed by the end of 2016, with some stores opening in February or March. Patridge said the commission will weigh each proposal based on location, the type of business and demand in the area.

“I know there’s some angst about this, but we want to be thoughtful and careful,” Patridge said. He added: “I don’t think it is the intent of the commission to have an adverse impact on the community.”