As spring trips go, this one wasn’t meant to be luxurious. Our mission was simple: Fly to Seattle for a five-day visit, help celebrate our grandson’s fourth birthday, enjoy some fresh seafood and scenery, and perhaps along the way observe how one of America’s fastest-growing major cities is dealing with progress.
We got all of that last week, plus an added bonus. You never expect to spend that much time in the Great Northwest without seeing a single raindrop, but this time we did.
On the down side, we discovered firsthand the multifaceted nightmare that is Seattle traffic. Granted, having so much water does limit the possibilities for freeways. But the Emerald City obviously waited too long to address its worsening problem, and now the mixture of a few train routes and limited light rail doesn’t come close to a solution. Having plentiful bus service isn’t much help, either, with the main thoroughfares so clogged.
Several times, we lost 30-45 minutes just trying to navigate short distances driving through busy areas. It was the same fate with Uber drivers, who had local knowledge and technology for guidance but still fought losing battles, even away from rush hours.
But traffic wasn’t the No. 1 negative surprise. That came simply looking for a nice neighborhood liquor store, where I planned to check out the abundant local craft-beer selection, as well as some good Washington state wines.
We didn’t see any such stores driving around the trendy areas in north Seattle, near where we were staying. I checked online and still had no luck. In a section with at least 50,000 inhabitants (Seattle’s metro area has 3.6 million people), there only appeared to be a couple of specialty wine stores of any size, nowhere near us.
Conversations with area residents quickly produced the answer. For generations after Prohibition, Seattle and Washington had only state-owned liquor stores. That changed in 2011, when Costco (headquartered in the Seattle area) pumped $18 million into a campaign for a ballot issue to allow alcohol sales in private businesses. Ballot issue 1183 passed, and everyone was led to believe it would mean utopia for consumers.
Sound familiar? Coloradans are hearing the same message now as big-business entities push for a state-level ballot question in November allowing wine and full-strength beer to be sold in supermarkets and other food stores.
It’ll be great, the supporters say. It’ll be terrible, the opponents insist.
I would be the first to admit, visiting states such as Florida and Texas as a tourist, it’s nice being able to find regular beer and wine in a supermarket.
But this trip to Seattle brought a different discovery. We went to a large Albertsons, expecting to see a large selection. Instead, we encountered national and import brands but hardly any local beers, and for wine, the lower-price products were abundant but the choices for upscale options almost nonexistent.
So it went in other stores, even the size of Sam’s Club. The prices were decent for famous brands of beer and wine, and acceptable for hard liquor — though the taxes were much higher than in Colorado. And you could find booze in any Seattle convenience store, but again with just a limited supply of national beers and a smattering of wines.
As customers wanting to consider local Seattle-area beers and higher-quality Washington wines, we hit the wall. All I could think of was the many well-run, first-rate, superbly stocked liquor stores in Colorado Springs, just in the central and Westside areas. Places like Queen Liquor, Weber Street Liquor, Coaltrain, Downtown Fine Spirits and Wines, Plaza 21, Steins & Vines, Red Rock Liquors — and that doesn’t even count others such as Cheers Liquor Mart and more out east.
Any stranger in our region doesn’t have to look far to find a classy store. Yet, in a mega-city as progressive and supposedly cool as Seattle, it’s a different story.
Definitely, the circumstances are not exactly the same in Colorado and Washington. But just based on that experience, I can’t help but conclude that if good neighborhood liquor stores and multiple outlets for local craft brews can’t make it in Seattle competing against open alcohol sales in supermarkets and food stores, they wouldn’t survive in Colorado either.
The campaign known as Your Choice Colorado talks a good game. But that doesn’t make it the best choice for Colorado consumers and more than 1,600 privately owned small businesses across the state already selling full-strength beer, wine and liquor.
If you want craft beer instead of Coors, Miller or Bud, and a full range of wine choices depending on the occasion, believe me, you’d much rather be shopping here than in Seattle. No kidding.
— CS Business Journal (@CSBizJournal) April 6, 2016