The November 2011 passage of Washington’s Initiative 1183 marked a major turning point in the state’s 78-year practice of controlling the sale of hard liquor. The measure, supported in large part by Costco and many other major retailers, spelled the end of sales in more than 300 state-owned stores in favor of allowing private businesses to carry liquor in addition to beer and wine products.

For these businesses, which include wholesalers as well as large and small supermarkets, the transition poses both a significant opportunity as well as a challenge. Hilltop and Promenade Red Apple Markets are among those rising to the occasion by upgrading their facilities and educating both employees and customers on the change, which took effect June 1.

The markets’ recent investment in time for the liquor transition is expected to pay dividends, as they now can actively participate in what the state Liquor Control Board estimates is a nearly $889 million annual business.

The transition from public to private liquor sales is just one of the major developments underway at Hilltop and Promenade Red Apple Markets. The two community markets are affiliated with Washington-based chain Red Apple Markets, but owned by local franchisees Lenny and Laurie Rose. The couple purchased the Promenade Red Apple Market in 1997 and the Hilltop Red Apple Market in 1998.

Each market offers groceries as well as produce, floral, meat, seafood, deli and bakery departments, and hosts an in-store café.

Investing in Efficiency

Accommodating liquor sales is just one of the markets’ ongoing initiatives. Hilltop and Promenade Red Apple Markets last year began a series of energy efficiency minded upgrades as part of wholesaler Unified Grocers’  “EnergySmart” program.

“In this business, with tough competition and slim margins, we need every advantage we can find,” the company says. “We are constantly seeking ways to save energy and reduce our expenses.”

The markets are taking advantage of rebate programs available through local utility companies to help defray the costs of upgrades to refrigeration systems and components. The National Development Council’s Grow America Fund is also providing a loan for the improvements.

The upgrades include replacing gaskets on walk-in and reach-in doors; installing anti-sweat heater controls, using efficient motors in walk-in coolers and freezer cases, and the use of night covers on open cases. Hilltop and Promenade Red Apple Markets anticipate that the upgrades will conserve 520,000 kilowatts and save the stores $30,000 annually.

Building Support

The markets’ participation in the EnergySmart program reflects its overall emphasis on building strong relationships with wholesalers and suppliers. Promenade and Red Apple Markets work with Unified Grocers to stock their shelves. Unified Grocers is the largest retailer-owned wholesale grocery cooperative in the western United States.

In addition, Hilltop and Promenade Red Apple Markets take advantage of resources offered by Northwest Grocers, a joint venture of Red Apple Markets’ corporate office and Thriftway Food Stores. The venture offers services to member stores including quarterly marketing plans, web site support, weekly advertising flyers and payroll services.

“Northwest Grocers is committed to provide innovative solutions that foster excellence in retail support, dedicated to growth and profitability for independent retailers and trusted to perform at the highest level of integrity,” the organization says.