YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - A public auction for Washington's nearly 170 state-run liquor stores brought in close to $31 million from hundreds of bidders in the state's efforts to privatize its booze business, as mandated by voters.
The Washington state Liquor Control Board announced the auction's final tally Monday, but it did not immediately release the names of the successful bidders.
Bids totaled $30.75 million for the 167 stores, with most of the bidding activity coming in a flurry in the online, public auction's final hours. On Friday, the last day of bidding, total bids increased by $23.7 million, the board said in a statement.
A $4.6 million bid for all of the stores, which was far exceeded by the total bids for the individual stores, will not count. The total number of bids offered: 14,627.
Last fall, voters approved Initiative 1183 in what was the costliest initiative campaign in state history. The measure, backed by membership warehouse giant Costco, allows stores larger than 10,000 square feet to sell liquor. Smaller stores will be allowed to sell liquor only if there are no other large retail outlets in their area.
Washington's 163 contract liquor stores, which are run by private individuals, are allowed to continue operating.
Successful bidders won the exclusive right to operate a liquor store at the location of the state-run store on which they bid. Because the state does not own the properties, the bidders still must negotiate a lease, as well as acquire a liquor license and stock their stores.
The initiative takes effect June 1.
The highest winning bid was $750,100 for Store 122 in Tacoma, while Store 186 in Spokane brought in the lowest winning bid at $49,600.
The auction marked a historic event for a state that has tightly controlled its liquor industry since the end of Prohibition.
Nearly 20 states control the retail or wholesale liquor business within their state lines. Some, such as Iowa and West Virginia, have relinquished partial control in recent years, but Washington will be the first in that group to abandon the liquor business entirely.
Initiative opponents have filed a lawsuit, arguing the measure violates state rules requiring initiatives to address only one subject, because it includes a provision for public safety funding. A judge rejected that claim, but opponents have appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The state high court will hear arguments May 17. The entire measure would be nullified if the court determines that voters would have rejected the initiative without the public safety provision.
More than 1,000 entities, including Target and large beverage retailer BevMo!, have already applied to begin selling liquor in their stores.