AUBURN – Deliveries stopped last month. The store that once sold 5,000 bottles of hard liquor a week was nearly empty. Denise Burke fielded requests on the last day of business, poking into boxes of odd stock in the back room.

An older man with a $20 bill folded in his hand walked in around 11 a.m. looking for a gallon of Canadian whiskey. She had liters, nothing bigger. “Oh, to hell with it,” he said and stalked out.

The State Liquor Store, a staple in the Shaw’s Plaza, closed Thursday, part of a move to get state government out of the liquor business. Eight remaining stores will close by November, according to Pamela Coutts, acting director at the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages.

Stores are closing as workers find other jobs with the state, she said.

The manager here found a job with Maine Revenue Services. Burke said she’ll move to Brunswick, to work at that State Liquor Store until it’s out of business. She’s been with the system for 16 years.

This location sold between 5,000 and 6,000 bottles a week, she said. “A lot of people are asking where they’re going to get their liquor now.”

She’s also heard people complain that they don’t like walking through the agency stores licensed to sell liquor. In bigger stores they have to wait in line. Here, they were right in and right out.

Consumer variety could also take a hit with the state store closures.

Agency stores are required to have a minimum of 100 different coded products on the shelf. (That’s not the same as brands; one brand could have several sizes and therefore several codes.)

But the State Liquor Store here stocked 1,200 codes. A spokeswoman for Hannaford, the state’s largest grocery chain, said it keeps about 480 in most stores.

Coutts said she isn’t too worried. “I think many of the agency stores carry the most popular brands.”

Over five years, liquor sales in Maine have slowly increased, as has consumption. It’s been the state’s marketing strategy to increase the dollar amount sold by encouraging people to trade up to premium products versus consuming more liquor, she said.

As business wound down in Auburn, there was no sales blowout. Maine is one of 19 jurisdictions that regulates the sale of liquor. Prices, even sales, have to be the same everywhere.

Burke started Thursday with 350 bottles left. The last few weeks have pushed slow-moving brands, like Mr. Boston whiskey, she said. Fourteen bottles had sat on the shelf for a year. Now, there were three left as Mr. Boston became the whisky of last resort.

A spokesman for Shaw’s, which owns the plaza at 600 Center St., did not return calls asking what, if any, tenant is lined up for the now-vacant storefront sandwiched between Key Bank and Gregory’s hair, nail and day spa.

In February, when Gov. John Baldacci proposed closing the last of the state liquor stores for budget reasons, he wrote in an address to lawmakers: “The private sector has proven it can run Maine’s liquor business with the same scrutiny and greater efficiency and the state simply no longer needs to engage in this business.”



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