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New era for Valley liquor stores

The sign struggle


High school photographers get recognized for lens visions Page 8


Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Holding one of his A-frame pumpkin patch signs, in storage for two years, Nursery at Mount Si owner Nels Melgaard looks over 8,700 pumpkin seedlings. He is at the center of a debate over North Bend sign laws and business needs.

Nursery’s yard sign campaign violates code, spurs debate on balance between law, business BY CAROL LADWIG


Staff Reporter

T-Lane claims state honors, season praise for Wildcat ball Page 9



Vol. 99, No. 2

Every time Nels Melgaard puts his A-frame signs up on North Bend streets, he knows he’s breaking the law. He’s not happy about it, but feels he’s at an impasse with the city. He can still joke about it, though. “Those are the criminals there,” he says, pointing to three sturdy A-frames lined up outside a shed. Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Giving her time to remember Tanner Jeans’ legacy and promote safe bike riding habits, Snoqualmie’s Laurie Gibbs is the founder of the Jeans Memorial Fo u n d a t i o n , organizing the annual bike safety Rodeo, June 9.

Melgaard makes the distinction because he just made up 100 other signs—simple yard signs declaring support for his business, The Nursery at Mount Si just outside city limits on Southeast 108th Street. Since May 25, when he got the signs, people have taken more than 80 and put them up in yards around North Bend. The yard signs were inspired by the A-frames, which Melgaard sets out every week to direct travelers to his business, and which city of North Bend staffers occasionally confiscate for violating the city’s six-year-old sign code. SEE SIGNS, 3

The gift Meet Laurie Gibbs, Jeans Foundation leader BY CAROL LADWIG Staff Reporter

By day, Laurie Gibbs deals with worst-case scenarios. Her analytical mind is constantly turning over prevention methods and damage mitigation for prison lock-

downs, school break-ins, and worse. For the rest of her day— she’s one of those people who seems to have more hours to get things done than the rest of us—her heart takes over. She organizes events for the Tanner Jeans Memorial Foundation that she started. SEE BIKES, 15

Customers were steady at North Bend’s Liquor Store No. 179 as the clock ticked down to closing time Thursday, May 31, but the shelves and stockroom were eerily clean as the selection sold out. Thursday marked the end of Washington’s 78-year state liquor monopoly, and it was a bittersweet moment for staff like Cheryl McGee and Shannon Joyce, with 14 years of experience in the liquor business between them. “There’s a whole future ahead,” McGee replies when she’s asked by a customer what she’ll do now. “Unemployment first.” McGee is among the thousands whose fate changed when the liquor industry went private. SEE LIQUOR, 3

Executiveeye view There’s still a way to go, but King County is reforming and changing. So says Executive Dow Constantine, who met with a group of Valley business and civic leaders during a stop at the Snoqualmie Valley Record. Learn about Contantine’s mid-term stop on page 6.



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State’s monopoly ends, new competition begins


Snoqualmie Valley Record • June 6, 2012 • 3


For state liquor workers whose stores were bought, it’s a disorienting transition. “One day, they’ll be a state employee,” Carpenter said. “The next, they’ll be in private hands. I’m sure it’s going to be amazing for them.”

With Initiative 1183, approved by voters last fall, taking effect, North Bend was one of the last 35 state outlets to stay open until the final moment. “This is their last day of business. They will close tonight,” Liquor Board spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said Thursday. Before they could shut down, every one of the state’s 300-odd stores had to be inventoried and audited. If new owners didn’t purchase the state’s old inventory, it got shipped back to the state. Stores were closed in phases because, Carpenter says, there’s only so much manpower. “There are a lot of different pieces in play,” he said.

Contract store

New competition While the state is now out of the picture at Mount Si Plaza, liquor sales will continue in the former state store under new owners. The state sold that store’s license in an auction, Thursday, May 24, after a prior bidder backed out. Diwag Suneel and Anar Ersel of Renton bid $235,000 to claim the right to sell liquor there. In the last few days, they have been preparing for the handover, and intend to keep some of the former employees. “They’d like to see us keep our clientele,” Jayne, a store manager, told the Record. The new owners, she said, intend to offer a wider selection of products unavailable at supermarkets. The new owners must secure a lease with the landlord, or may re-sell their license or request an alternative location in a one-mile radius. Meanwhile, both grocery stores in town, QFC and Safeway, intend to sell liquor, as do other grocers in the Valley. Twelve doors down from the North Bend liquor store, between the bread aisle and the deli, cabinets at the North Bend Safeway were draped, already partially stocked with rum, tequila, gin, brandy and whisky. Both the North Bend QFC and Safeway were set to serve liquor customers on Friday, June 1. I-1183 allowed retailers of big enough square footage, 10,000 square feet or more, to sell liquor. The new rules mean that the number of sales points in Washington jumps five-fold on Friday, from around 300 to about 1,500. Meanwhile, Washington’s old liquor distribution system is being scrapped. The state’s warehouse and contracted trucking companies will be replaced by private industry. Distributing compa-

SIGNS FROM 1 There are two problems with Melgaard’s signs, according to the code. First, they are “off-site” advertising, meaning they promote a business that is not on the same property as the sign. More importantly, they are sometimes set up in the city’s right-of-way on sidewalks, which is against city code as well as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. “When the signs are in public rights of way, they impeded ADA accessibility,” said North Bend’s Community and Economic Development Director Gina Estep. After he finds that his signs are gone, Melgaard goes straight to “the orphan sign pile” at the city’s Public Works building to retrieve them, or if he’s quick enough, to the office of Community and Economic Development, where he usually gets a reminder about the city’s sign regulations. “It’s just an old code, and it’s this goofy little game we play,” Melgaard said, adding that he’s done it, off

Seth Truscott/Staff Photo

North Bend Liquor Store employee Lori Laughren straightens bottles of rum on Wednesday, May 30, the day before the state liquor store transitioned to private ownership. Two bidders claimed the right to sell at the Mount Si Plaza site on Thursday, May 24. nies under the new law pay multi-million-dollar fees for the right to haul strong spirits. Brian Smith, another spokesman for the Washington Liquor Control Board, said the state expects to make an additional $215 to 250 million in liquor-based revenues over five years. State liquor taxes already in place—a 20.5 percent sales tax and a $3.70 per liter tax—remain. New fees include a 1 percent distribution fee and a 17 percent fee. State distributors, liquor suppliers who will move booze now that the state is out of the business— are also on the hook for $150 million in required license fees. The human cost includes the roughly 1,200 state employees losing their jobs. Bidders on the state’s liquor store licenses were offered a discount on their bidder’s premiums if they kept employees.

Saying goodbye Lori Laughren, an employee at the North Bend store, had some hard decision making to do on Wednesday. With the new bidders on board, Laughren was among the employees who had a day to decide whether to stay, in familiar surroundings but part of a whole new business, or go on unemployment. She admitted she had a hard time facing the looming change.

and on, for the 13 years he’s been in business. “The last time I had to go get ‘em was a couple of weeks ago,” he said, and that was the Friday before Mother’s Day, traditionally a big money-maker in the nursery business. He’d put the signs out in the morning, saw they were gone around noon, and found them in the back of a city Jeep Cherokee at Public Works, where they stayed all weekend because Public Works was closed. “It’s amazing when I ask people how they found us, they say ‘oh, I saw your sign.’… Those signs make a difference, $200 to $1,000 a day,” he said. “That’s when I thought, ‘what’s bigger than the city?’” He wanted to “let people know why I’m doing what I’m doing and let them have the opportunity to… make a statement.” His intent was not to lash out at the city, he said, and he was surprised by the online conversation that began on the City of North Bend Residents Yahoo group after his yard signs went out. The thread included accusations of dis-

“I don’t want to deal with being on unemployment or being unemployed,” she said. For Laughren, as for others, the transition has been a time of uncertainty. She and fellow staff frequently met customers who didn’t understand what was happening. “We’re still getting people who think, ‘You’re just going to be competing with the grocery store,’” she said. Laughren said her state job was never cushy. She makes around $12 an hour. “Everybody thought we made so much money: ‘Oh, those state employees!’” she said. Many worked for state benefits, now vanished. The state liquor board will continue to exist, focusing on enforcement and education. But while the number of liquor purveyors in the state is rising five-fold, no new money is being set aside for enforcement measures, Carpenter said. The liquor board did turn down a Seattle-led petition to extend sales hours, sticking to the current 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. rule. Smith told the Record that the state managed an orderly transition. “Did this work out for everyone? No,” he said. Initiative 1183 affected an entire industry in Washington, and its new rules satisfy some of those involved, but not all. “Many of them didn’t like how it turned out for them “ Smith said. “We can only implement it.”

“Those signs make a difference. I thought, ‘What’s bigger than the city?”

In Fall City, Tom Bergstrom closed his doors for an extended inventorying session Thursday. Operator of the Hayditter’s contract store, Bergstom will weather the transition, reopening as the Snoqualmie Valley Liquor Company. The one-man shop has operated in Fall City for 21 years. “It’s been very difficult,” Bergstrom said of the transition. He found a partner to come through at the last minute, providing funds to buy the inventory and license. Now, with the state out of the game, Bergstrom’s business will buy liquor through its competitors, the major distributors. “They’ve pretty much got us,” Bergstrom said. He expects costs to rise as a result of the new playing field—“Some of the stuff they’re selling us costs more than when the state sold it, with tax”—but Bergstrom hopes to be able to join with other independents in a cooperative, buying liquor in bulk. Customers have been weighing in, many vocally unhappy about the change. Bergstom also knows he has a lot of support from the Fall City community. But his clientele, he says, “can only handle the prices so far...We’ve got a lot of stuff to figure out.”

Route’s end For about 20 years, the Pozzi Brothers’ white trucks made the liquor delivery run to the liquor stores in North Bend and Fall City. Lately, the Kent-based hauler brought upwards of 400 cases a week to North Bend, Fall City and the Snoqualmie Casino, hauling it from the state’s Seattle warehouse. That history ended last week, when Pozzi’s and three other haulers’ contracts ended. Distribution companies will now carry liquor with their own private fleets. For owner Tom Pozzi, the change means downsizing his business, and letting 10 good drivers go. “I don’t think it’s an easy change,” he said. By Pozzi’s calculation, the state moved 20,000 cases a day, five days a week, by its haulers. “Now, it’s going to be an all new way,” he said. “It’ll get done. For me, it’s disappointing because we’ve delivered it for 60 years.”

crimination against get voluntary comMelgaard’s business, pliance… we haven’t and selective code had to go to the level enforcement. of fining people.” City officials also Estep and Londell saw the comments, have met with and joined the Melgaard about his online conversation signs, and the sign to emphasize that Nels Melgaard code, last week. Melgaard was not Nursery at Mount Si owner “There are some being singled out in options regarding the city’s enforcement off-site signs that he’s of the sign code. currently not utilizing,” Londell said. “We don’t regulate property One such option, that businesses outside of city limits,” said City in the outlet mall and Mount Si Plaza Administrator Londi Lindell, “… use, is a “human sign.” Businesses except, they have to follow our sign can hire people to stand in a visible code.” place, including in city right-of-way, By the city’s code, North Bend and hold a sign advertising the busicould have fined Melgaard $50 per ness to entice people in. These signs sign the second time he’d set out the are not in violation of city code, A-frames, and simply not returned Estep said, and they give someone them to him after a third offense, a job, too. but staff are more interested in findRevising the city’s sign code is ing solutions to the problems, says also a possibility, but Estep noted Estep. that it couldn’t be done for just one “My office is in charge of enforce- business. ment, and … we try to resolve code “We haven’t opened the sign code issues vs. bringing down the ham- since I’ve been here, which is since mer,” she said. “Most of the time we September, 2006,” she said “A lot of

things need to be addressed if the code is going to be amended.” Melgaard is in full agreement. “I’m not looking for any special privileges from the city,” he said. But after two “disastrous” springs and two falls without a pumpkin patch—a value of about $40,000 in sales and traffic for the nursery —Melgaard says the nursery needs to regain some lost ground. He’s building a fence in the next few weeks to keep the elk out of his pumpkins this year, but the school groups that used to visit his patch each fall have probably all found new pumpkin patches to visit, he said. “I’ve got 8,700 pumpkin seedlings in my greenhouse, which I fully intend getting into the field, so we can have a pumpkin patch this year,” he said. “It’s not just the pumpkins, it’s fall color, it’s the whole fall season. It’s my employees working, not being on unemployment.” Learn more about The Nursery at Mount Si at Follow the City of North Bend at

The sign struggle  
The sign struggle  

Nursery’s yard sign campaign spurs debate on balance between law, business