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For one liquor retailer, 'an expensive learning curve'

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of private retail liquor sales in Washington. According to the Liquor Control Board, 1,680 retailers now stock vodka, whiskey, and other spirits.

Dean Hasegawa, manager of the Red Apple supermarkets on Seattle’s Beacon Hill and in the Central Area, says the biggest problem for him and other retailers has been theft. 

"That was an expensive learning curve, I’m going to tell you," said Hasegawa, reflecting on the past year.

Hasegawa says he lost thousands of dollars in merchandise to shoplifters. As soon as he started stocking liquor on the shelves, people began stealing it, even with theft-deterrent caps on bottles and extra security cameras in place.

“They got as bold as coming in, filling up baskets and they would just go out the door as quickly as they could," he said. "Some of them had cars waiting, some of them ran, others threw the liquor back at you."

By the time holidays rolled around, he had decided to put the alcohol behind locked sliding-glass doors. Other supermarket and drug stores have taken similar measures, over the course of the year locking up or otherwise making their liquor products harder to get to.

You might wonder why they didn’t do that from the start.

But Hasegawa says you have to understand the psychology involved. Stores, especially a neighborhood one such as Red Apple, want to appear friendly and inviting. And locking a product away tends to send the opposite message.

And, he says,  you don’t want to put yourself at a disadvantage to your competition. But in hindsight, he sees he should have locked up the liquor from the very beginning, he added.

Hasegawa says it’s curious, though, that Washington seems to be different from places that have long sold liquor in grocery stores. While vacationing in California, Nevada, and Arizona, Hasegawa saw liquor bottles sitting on open shelves, and the accessible display didn't seem to cause any problems.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.