Drinking Better 

Sales of liquor are up in Idaho, but not because people are drinking more

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Patron Tequila is a good example. In both Washington and Idaho, the bottle's shelf price is around $50. In Idaho, it costs about $53 after tax. In Washington, it's closer to $65.

"The real beneficiary is the little, tiny town of State Line," Faraca said.

State Line, Idaho sits right on the Idaho/Washington border near Interstate 90, between Post Falls, Idaho and Spokane, Wash. After Washington privatized liquor sales, the three stores in Post Falls were quickly overwhelmed by border business and the Liquor Division added its first new liquor store in several years to the town of State Line.

Though it boasts a population of about 40 people, State Line has the largest liquor store in the state with sales 50 percent higher than any single store in Boise—nearly $6 million in 2014 alone.

"I don't know what they'll do with their distribution," Faraca said. "Maybe they'll pave their streets with gold."

Keep the Liquor Pouring

The Liquor Division doesn't go out of its way to promote its product. It doesn't do any advertising or marketing. While some consumers may find the control-state regulations irritating, Faraca calls it a win-win.

  • Idaho State Liquor Division

"I lived in California for awhile, which is an open state," he said. "I moved back to Idaho and I thought it was so much easier when I could buy a bottle at Albertsons or WinCo. Now I realize the benefit of what we do. We see all the statistics about life and death, spousal abuse, car accidents and mortality rates, and control states have lower instances of those types of social ills compared to open states."

Anderson agreed.

"What's the value of not being able to pick up a half-pint of cheap vodka at 1:15 in the morning, after you've already been at happy hour for five hours?" he said. "We will not do things to stimulate the demand of a temperate consumer. Giving back is a result of what we do, it's not why we exist."

The people at the helm—Anderson, Faraca, Wasserstein—are more interested in running the Liquor Division like a business than a government agency.

For proof, visit the liquor stores on Grove Street in downtown Boise.

Wasserstein designed it during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, picking bright, tropical colors for the walls and designing a stadium-like ceiling.

The checkout counter is made of barn wood and decorated with sheets of copper. Einstein lightbulbs hang above it. The concrete floor is coated in an espresso stain.

It's a stark difference from the stores that haven't been redone yet, like the location on State and 17th streets, which is cramped and brightly lit with florescent lights. The dark green carpet is speckled with old stains.

Anderson said changing the face of liquor stores will help attract more customers—namely women.

"The environments we're creating are potentially more inviting for a female consumer," he said. "If your store is in a lousy location with a poorly lit parking lot, some women would rather go pick up a bottle of wine."

Faraca added that more women have come into the industry since the 1990s with the proliferation of lower-proof alcohols and more flavors.

"We have suppliers that literally credit Sex and the City for bringing women into cocktails—cosmos and that sort of thing," Faraca said.

Before this massive facelift, Wasserstein said 70 percent of his customers were male. It's his goal to change that paradigm, but he hasn't seen much change yet.

Still, the Liquor Division is innovating. It launched a new website and campaign called Mix, Blend, Enjoy Responsibly. As with the redesigned stores and retail-focused business mindset, the website looks nothing like a government agency's homepage. It features cocktail recipes, product promotions, pictures of women holding colorful drinks and a banner photo of a couple toasting in front of a mountain range.

"We're putting our best foot forward," Wasserstein said. "We're trying to be as good at retailing as Whole Foods or an Apple Store. That's the target, and there's no reason why we can't do that here in Idaho."

click to enlarge mixblendenjoy.com offers cocktail recipes, product info and colorful photos. It looks nothing like a government website. - MIXBLENDENJOY.COM
  • mixblendenjoy.com
  • mixblendenjoy.com offers cocktail recipes, product info and colorful photos. It looks nothing like a government website.
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