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Wash. State Wins Big In Liquor Store Auction

Lesley McClurg

Earlier this month Washington state auctioned off the rights to sell liquor in their current stores — 167 licenses were sold, but 18 buyers fell through. Bidders either couldn't come up with all the money, or struggled to work out lease conditions for the retail space. Those remaining 18 stores were sold at a live auction Thursday, as KUOW's Lesley McClurg reports.


Jas Sangha showed up right on time with his $10,000 dollar deposit check in hand. Over 300 people were already in line. Many were wearing turbans and speaking Indian languages. They were part of Sangha's community. He's the leader in a loose collective trying to buy up as many liquor stores as possible.

Sangha: "My fear initially was that big businesses will all get into the liquor business. I wanted to see more opportunities for smaller guys. And, we did reach out to many people different folks within our community."

The collective was successful in the first online auction. They pooled their resources together and bought over 80 of the 167 stores.

Pat McLaughlin works for the state liquor board. He has been leading the transition to a privatized system. He says he's not surprised by the large turnout.

McLaughlin: "These are 18 of our best stores. They range from Vancouver to Bellingham, Ocean Shores to Spokane. They're all very profitable. So, this is an opportunity for these entrepreneurs to have a piece of that action."

The bidding started. Jas Sangha stepped forward eagerly. He had his hopes set on a store in Enumclaw. It sold for $259,000 in the online auction. Jas hoped to snag it for around $50,000. But, he only raised his paddle once. The store sold for $310,000 — $50,000 more than in the earlier auction. Almost all of the 18 stores sold for more than their earlier bids. A friend of Sangha's named Pintu Bath hoped to buy four stores, but like Sangha he kept his paddle down.

Bath: "My calculation was to make any money from my investment, they went over double the price so I thought there was no point to buying it, or bidding on it. So I just keep my hand down."

Both Sangha and Bath went home empty handed. The big winner was the state. The liquor board exceeded their original goal by over $1 million. The total from both auctions was over $30 million. The state will officially step out of the liquor business on May 31.

I'm Lesley McClurg reporting.

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