Ore. liquor stores wary of grocery store competition

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MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Some Oregon liquor store owners and craft distilleries aren’t enthusiastic about a proposal to allow large grocery stores to sell hard liquor.

Liquor store owners and distillery managers told the Medford Mail-Tribune the Oregon Liquor Control Commission should tread carefully while considering whether to recommend that the Legislature allow expanded liquor sales.

“I’m not excited about the idea and hope it doesn’t happen,” said Patrick Voris, owner of Ashland Liquors.

Oregon restricts liquor sales to state-licensed stores, whose owners are paid a commission of 8.8 percent of sales. The liquor control commission has proposed that grocery stores larger than 10,000 square feet be allowed to sell bottles of hard liquor.

Some store owners fear they won’t be able to compete with large grocery chains or retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco. Craft distilleries say they won’t be able to get their products on the shelves of big stores.

“Major brands could undercut us, and we will not be in those stores like Safeway,” said Diane Paulson, owner of Organic Nation. Grocery-store liquor sales “will not be a benefit to us,” she said.

Paulson said there are 50 distillers in the state, and they want to be part of a solution that satisfies consumers while continuing to promote Oregon-based business. The Oregon Distillers Guild has recommended the number of stores selling liquor be increased from the current 248 to no more than 300.

Christie Scott, spokeswoman for the liquor control commission, said many of the details are still being discussed. She said liquor bottles could be featured alongside beer and wine bottles or could be in a separate area in the store.

She said the commission will have a better idea of its proposal by the middle of December. The agency hopes to develop a model that would allow the existing liquor stores to remain viable while opening up sales in large stores.

Grocery stores have been clamoring to sell liquor and have said they’re looking at pursuing a ballot measure that would privatize the liquor control system.

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