Ty Swenson
A sign proclaiming participation in White Center's voluntary alcohol initiative just outside the door of Zip Mart at 16th Ave S.W. and S.W. 107th St. The voluntary ban could be a step towards mandatory restrictions from the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

White Center’s voluntary alcohol initiative could lead to mandatory state restrictions

Regardless of how effective White Center’s voluntary ban on single serve alcohol sales is, it may lead to more concrete restrictions from the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB).

In April of this year the King County Sheriff’s Office combined forces with beer distributors and White Center community groups to ask convenience stores to abstain from selling high-alcohol, inexpensive single serve beverages from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. The ban’s purpose is to limit daytime drinking by White Center’s homeless, chronic inebriate population.

WSLCB has an Alcohol Impact Area designation that could be applied, but a community “must first attempt a voluntary Alcohol Impact Area (which is happening now).” If unsuccessful, “the local jurisdiction can petition the Liquor Control Board to request the Board adopt a resolution,” making the once voluntary program mandatory. Products can be absolutely banned or limited in sale, according to the board’s website.

“The purpose of an Alcohol Impact Area is for local authorities to have a process to mitigate problems with inebriation or illegal activities linked to the sale or consumption of alcohol within a geographic area of their city, town or county, but not the entire jurisdiction.”

White Center’s Storefront Deputy BJ Myers said eight stores have agreed to the voluntary terms, but the results have been mixed.

“We still see people drinking during the day and that never totally went away because there were always some stores that were selling, or there was the possibility that they could buy a six pack,” he said.

Some store owners have complained to Myers they lose business from 6 to 1 because potential customers simply go to another store. Myers said chain retailers including Walgreen’s, Bartell Drugs and Super Saver Foods and some small retailers have refused to take part in the ban.

The Herald asked two convenience store owners to comment on the program (one displaying the 6-1 ban sign, the other not), but both declined.

“Even if it is not working completely, and even if not every business is doing it, there still may be some good effects,” Myers said, citing the example that participating retailers are able to arbitrarily apply the rule to certain problem customers they suspect of being intoxicated.

They may “just have a bad feeling about this person,” he said, and refer to the ban as a reason not to sell.

“If it turns out that it is something that we end up dropping … at some point, we’ll have to talk to the liquor control board about what we did,” Myers said. “There is a plan for if this doesn’t work on how to make this a useful effort, but I don’t think we are there yet.”

White Center Chamber of Commerce President Mark Ufkes said he plans to contact the WSLCB this fall to consider making the area an Alcohol Impact Area, “based on the limited participation of 50 plus vendors who were asked to participate in voluntary alcohol restriction and sales to the homeless chronic alcoholic population.

“If a small number of vendors who see their market is to sell fortified alcohol to (that population) … I guarantee them that the vast majority of White Center residents do not support them in that view … and do not want them to be in business if that is the marketing emphasis they are going to take.

“I think it’s time to push a little more,” Ufkes said.

Asked if the recent privatization of liquor sales (and increased availability of hard liquor) in Washington has made an impact on drinking patterns in White Center, Myers said he has not noticed a significant change.

“For the most part, these guys are still drinking the beers that they can get for under $2,” he said. “As soon as they get two dollars together they go get a beer rather than saving up until they have $7 or $8 to get the smallest size of liquor.”

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