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Online Auction Signals End to Washington Liquor Sales

Successful bidders win exclusive rights to apply for retail alcohol licenses at 167 Washington stores.

The voters in the state of Washington have had their say. And now, so have the online bidders.

Initiative 1183, approved by Washingtonians in November 2011, called for the end of state-run liquor business operations by June 1, 2012. An online auction took in nearly 15,000 bids between March 8, 2012 and April 20. All told, 121 bidders were successful in this first phase of their quest to get into the liquor sales business in Washington.

According to an announcement on the Washington State Liquor Control Board website, winners receive liquor license application rights for the designated location.

But rights to apply for a license don’t guarantee a successful application. Bidders who are unable to obtain an operating license may sell their rights to another buyer. Likewise, bidders must successfully negotiate a lease with the building landlord. If unable to do so, bidders may explore a different location within a one mile radius of the store’s current location, provided they obtain approval from the Liquor Control Board.

The total value of successful bids for the 167 stores was nearly $31 million. The highest winning bid was $750,100 for a store in Tacoma, while the lowest winning bid was $49,600 for a store in Spokane. As is common in online auction sites, heavy bidding near the auction’s stated end time lengthened the process by more than two hours.

The online auction was conducted by online auction site Public Surplus, which the state has used since 2009 to sell state property.