Community loses its balance in access to alcohol | Guest Column

Brad Fincher. - Journal file photo
Brad Fincher.
— image credit: Journal file photo

By Brad Fincher

The philosophy of Yin-Yang can be summarized as a belief in the value of balance.

A practical application is that maintaining balance leads to healthiness. If there is an overabundance of one or the other it leads to imbalance and unhealthiness. I believe San Juan Island has lost its Yin-Yang.

Based on Initiative 1183, which privatized liquor sales in the state of Washington, the government auctioned off all state-owned liquor stores to the highest bidders. This auction was specifically to purchase the “exclusive right to apply for a spirits retail liquor license” which did not include inventory or retail space. Statewide, 167 liquor stores were auctioned for over $30 million.

Locally, the Friday Harbor store, State Liquor Store #169, went to the highest bidder for $197,100. A quick check on the Liquor Control Board website (www.liq.wa.gov) shows that there is a pending application to resume selling liquor as well as beer and wine under this license.

I-1183 also allowed privately owned retailers to apply for a spirits retail liquor license if they met the criteria: 10,000 square feet of retail space or proof that customers would have to travel “too far” to buy their spirits and the square foot rule can be waived. A look at the same website shows that licenses applied for and issued by the Liquor Control Board give consumers on San Juan Island the ability to purchase liquor at King’s Market, Friday Harbor Market Place and Ace Hardware.

Yes, Ace Hardware has been issued a liquor license, and Roche Harbor grocery store has a pending application for the license.

There are 41 establishments where alcohol in some form can be purchased on San Juan Island, servicing a population of around 7,000 people. There are 14 “off-premises” outlets to purchase alcohol for take-away consumption. This includes grocery and convenience stores. There are 27 “on premises” outlets to purchase and consume on site. This includes restaurants and bar/taverns. These lists do not include temporary licenses for the purposes of fundraisers, fairs or events.

This is the imbalance on San Juan Island.

There is a substance abuse problem on this island. We have one treatment facility for the whole county. It is easy for minors to get alcohol.

We at the San Juan Island Prevention Coalition have a mission to reduce substance abuse in our San Juan Island community. I urge you to get involved. If you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, ask for help. All of the 41 establishments I mentioned can easily, and correctly, claim that alcohol sales are just a portion of their business. I’d like to know what percentage of alcohol sales make up their overall sales.

Allow us to put brochures in your alcohol aisles. Educate your employees on I.D. checks and over-service. Make a charitable donation based on alcohol sales to the Coalition or to a treatment program.

I encourage “Fund Raisers” to try an alcohol free event and see if your efforts garner any less money; especially if it is a function for the benefit of schools or children.

Yin and Yang are never static but in constantly changing balance. Too much of one can weaken the other. Increased access to alcohol caused by increased outlet density weakens our prevention efforts.

My research shows a social host ordinance is an effective environmental change (more on that in another article). Join me in restoring the balance (the Yin-Yang) on San Juan Island.

— Editor's note: Brad Fincher is chairman of the San Juan Island Prevention Coalition.


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