California-based BevMo to open in downtown Bellevue on Friday

A downtown branch of BevMo, a California liquor retailer, readies for a store opening Friday, Nov. 9. - Celina Kareiva
A downtown branch of BevMo, a California liquor retailer, readies for a store opening Friday, Nov. 9.
— image credit: Celina Kareiva

Crates of wine and local brews were stacked in columns of threes and fours outside the still vacant Beverages and More (BevMo) store last week. Inside drills hummed and the final stages of setup were underway in the 10,600 square foot facility, set to open Friday, Nov. 9.

The newest branch of the California-based beverage retailer, at 1100 Bellevue Way NE, joins locations in Silverdale, Tacoma and Tukwila, with future openings planned for Northgate, Bellingham and Ballard.

BevMo is the second national chain to capitalize on the passage of Initiative 1183, which privatized liquor sales in Washington state. Total Wine & More, the nation’s largest independent retailer of premium wines, beers and spirits opened a 30,000 square foot facility in June.

BevMo’s announcement to move into the neighborhood brought mixed reactions. Small business owners have struggled alongside the high purchasing power of grocery chains such as Safeway and QFC, though BevMo CEO Alan Johnson says he believes large and small retailers can coexist.

“BevMo has been in business for 17 years in California and Arizona, and thousands of mom and pop retailers still exist in both of those states,” said Johnson. “There has always been room for everyone in the market and we see Washington as no different.”

Johnson was eager to bring operations to the state. The recent change in state liquor laws made for a low barrier to entry. Johnson said that there was little to no competition from specialty beverage retailers, and he believed the brand already had a substantial following here.

The company also makes special efforts to buy local.

“We are very excited about being in the Washington market and will continue to look forward to expanding,” said Johnson, who plans eight stores by the end of next year. “We’ve had very positive feedback from local businesses and the community.”

Sally Kim, who bought licensing rights to the former state liquor store in Factoria, says she had the business foresight to know that she and her husband couldn’t exclusively sell spirits and beer, and hope to compete with the chains coming in to the area. They see the purchase as an investment in the future.

“I can tell you that it’s a very competitive market out there. But what was going on with privatization was unprecedented anywhere,” said Mickhail Carpenter, a spokesman for the Liquor Control Board. “Nobody knew what it was going to look like.”

Retail chains, like BevMo, will undoubtedly present a challenge to smaller operations across the state, explained Carpenter. But Johnson prefers to highlight the incredible choice allowed by 1183. Each branch opening has brought lines of more than 500 people, and sales are greater than anything the company expected.

Today's opening will kick off at 9 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Bellevue Mayor Conrad Lee. The first 500 guests will receive a gift bag with $50 worth of goodies.

The Northgate store will have its opening on Nov. 16.


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