Liquor prices in Washington fell gradually through the summer, taking the edge off higher prices that surprised some drinkers – and voters – when private retailers began selling spirits June 1.
Year-over-year spirits sales increased in July and August after falling in June, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue.
Some thought private liquor sales would mean lower prices, but Washington’s high liquor taxes remain in place, and the initiative voters passed last fall to privatize spirits sales includes fees assessed on retailers and distributors that help keep prices high. The intent of the fees was to keep money flowing to the state and local governments, which in fiscal 2011 received $416 million from the state-run liquor business. The result on grocery shelves was an average 14.8 percent price hike for liquor sold in June, compared with June 2011. By July, the average price increase slowed to 12.4 percent. And in August, prices were 10.1 percent higher than August 2011. The average price of a liter of liquor in August 2012 was $24.73, compared with $22.46 the previous August. Both prices are after taxes.
Prices could fall further because of competition and, in two years, a decrease in the fee paid by distributors from 10 percent to 5 percent of liquor sales. Liquor sales, which fell 9.4 percent in June, the first month of privatization, have rebounded. They rose 15.4 percent in July and 11.8 percent in August. That includes sales in restaurants, bars and retail stores. Sales in restaurants and bars alone fell in June and remain below last year’s.