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The bizarre thing that happens when grocery stores can’t sell booze

Samson Ledesma

Via the Washington Post

Nothing drives home the fact that we live in a federalist system like moving to a new state and trying to figure out where and when you can buy alcohol.

In some states, like California, you can buy beer, wine and liquor at the grocery store. In others, you can buy beer at the supermarket but need to make a separate trip to the liquor store to buy wine and hard alcohol. In still others, like Utah, alcoholic beverages can only be purchased at state-run facilities.

A good way to get a bird's-eye-view of the legal booze landscape is to look at what types of alcohol you can and can't buy at your local supermarket. Using information from the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA) and other sources, I put together the following map.


Let's take a look at the big national trends.

The Southwest is a free-for-all

Perhaps reflecting the region's Wild West roots, you can buy pretty much anything you want, alcohol-wise, in grocery stores running from northern California, through Nevada, and all the way into Arizona and New Mexico.  Read More...

Uncork Kansas Introduces Bill Allowing Beer and Wine Sales in Grocery & C-Stores


TOPEKA — Weeks after successful legislative initiatives that change how alcohol is retailed in both Colorado and Oklahoma, Uncork Kansas partners introduced similar legislation in the Kansas House Commerce, Labor, and Economic Development committee to foster economic growth, consumer choice, and customer convenience. The coalition, comprised of convenience and grocery stores of all sizes from across the state, is pushing for the adoption of legislation mirroring what Oklahomans passed with 66 percent of the vote in the general election this past November. Under the Uncork Kansas bill, Kansans would be able to shop for their beer and wine in grocery, convenience, and liquor stores. They could also buy chips, mixers, corkscrews, and other non-alcoholic items in liquor stores. Liquor stores would continue to be the exclusive providers of spirits.

“At our customers’ insistence, we’ve long advocated for more consumer-focused alcohol laws and the legislative changes. We’re gearing up to work with the legislative body to move forward on this issue and modernize laws in Kansas so grocers and c-stores can sell beer and wine,” said Dave Dillon, Uncork Kansas chairman.

The push for change in Kansas is important because of the current law limits consumer choices and burdens consumers by prohibiting liquor stores from selling non-alcohol items. It also drives business across the border to Missouri and Nebraska where shoppers find larger selections, better prices, and greater convenience.

“Kansans have long expressed their frustration with Kansas liquor laws and it’s time that we as a legislative body take action to create equity in the marketplace and allow consumers the freedom to decide where they purchase their adult beverages,” said Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell. “It’s not responsible to have policies in place that encourage shopping across the border. We need to retain business in Kansas and improving how alcohol is retailed is one to keep Kansas money in Kansas.”

Uncork Kansas School Equity Fix Proposal



The state of Kansas needs money. You and thousands more of our customers want the option to buy legal, adult beverages in grocery stores. So ... we have a plan that accomplishes both! Under the Uncork Kansas Free Market Budget Bailout, a one-time licensing fee per store would be paid by grocery stores to the State of Kansas for the opportunity to sell beer, wine, and spirits. An additional $6.5 million would be generated annually through the annual licensing fee.

Here are some of the details:

- Generates approximately $40 million dollars the state can use in FY 2017 through the one-time sale of adult beverage licenses to grocery stores

- Provides an additional $6.5 million annually for Kansas through the annual renewal fee

- Creates JOBS in existing businesses and jobs related to in-store renovations and new construction

- Doesn't raise taxes on businesses or individuals, or reduce services or cut program funding

- Generates an additional $72.5 million in state and local taxes and helps reduce border leakage

- Allows the smallest Kansas grocery stores to offer beer, wine, and spirits with minimal license fee investment


Costco - the Kansas version



There’s a lot of excitement in Wichita about the opening of the Costco store. Unfortunately, Kansas law won't permit Costco to offer the experience shoppers of this popular retail store enjoy in other states. You may have heard they’ll be selling adult beverages. Well, yes, sort of.

While at the Costco store in Wichita they eventually plan to have an outside party operate a liquor store attached to the location, you’ll still be making two stops, paying in two separate transactions in a separate location. It’s not one-stop shopping. You can’t shop for your wine and your groceries in a seamless fashion like you can at the Missouri Costco. Kansas law does not allow Costco to sell wine, spirits, or strong beer. Costco cannot get a liquor license as licenses not available to corporations.

Unfortunately, Kansas’ antiquated laws have conditioned consumers to accepting inconvenient, inefficient, and overpriced alcohol sales. We know you’re growing increasingly frustrated with this out-of-date retail system. You’re traveling to other states, including nearby Missouri and Nebraska, where you have the freedom to purchase adult beverages and non-alcoholic products at liquor stores, grocery stores and convenience stores.

You see the free market work in those places and know that you don’t have to restrict customers to certain businesses in order to ensure liquor stores (or any other business) thrive. 

Opponents to Uncork Kansas efforts actually think that Costco opening in Wichita is proof that we don’t need to change our liquor laws. It’s one of many statements they profess that isn’t founded in fact or with consideration to what’s best for YOU. Instead, it continues to be about allowing them - the liquor store industry - to maintain their stranglehold on the market, delivering for you only the assurance of higher prices and less convenience.

We can’t allow this – it’s imperative we all continue our outreach to the Kansas legislature and implore them to adopt Uncork Kansas legislation.


In-store selection of adult beverages in Kansas Costco locations ... 

Costco Beer Selection in KS Store

In-store selection of adult beverages in Missouri and other Costco locations where beer, wine, and spirits retail allowed ... 

Costco MO CostcoMO Costco MO Costco MO







Senate Fails To Pass Consumer Friendly Legislation


Thank you for your support thus far as we've worked to pass Uncork Kansas legislation. Today Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce introduced an amendment that would have repealed the Cereal Malt Beverage Act, meaning you would no longer be forced to buy 3.2 beer at grocery and c-stores. You could buy regular beer. The amendment also would have permitted liquor stores to expand their offerings and sell non-alcoholic products like cups, mixers, and ice.
We are disappointed to share that the Senate did not pass this amendment. Instead, they voted to continue to restrict your freedoms and keep an inconvenient, out-dated system in place. Meanwhile, 45 others states are effectively retailing regular beer in their grocery and c-stores and liquor store establishments continue to maintain profitable stores. The opposition's scare tactics are tiresome, but we continue our commitment to seeing Uncork Kansas legislation pass.
Thank you for your continued support. Please extend a thank you to the following legislators who did vote in your favor today. Below that list, is the name and phone number of the Senators who voted to keep in place an antiquated system that keeps 3.2 beer on the shelf and restricts your shopping options.
Uncork Kansas Supporters!!
The following voted against Uncork Kansas. Please reach out to them and share your thoughts.
Thank you! 785-296-7381 785-296-7369 785-296-7368 785-296-7389 785-296-7385 785-296-7387 785-296-7364 785-296-3245 785-296-7372 785-296-7667 785-296-7365 785-296-7353 785-296-7361 785-296-7678 785-296-7359 785-296-7388 785-296-7377 785-296-7358 785-296-7399 785-296-7355 785-296-7375 785-296-7379 785-296-7374 785-296-7367 785-296-6838 785-296-2419 785-296-7391

Uncork Kansas Advocates for Consumer Freedoms before Senate Committe



TOPEKA, KAN. - March 31, 2015 - Uncork Kansas presented testimony in favor of Senate Bill 298 in today’s Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee. The bill is considered a “county option” bill, meaning voters in each Kansas county would have the opportunity to vote in a general election to decide if adult beverages were retailed in grocery and convenience stores within the county. “Kansans deserve the opportunity to benefit on tangible things such as better pricing, convenience, an improved shopping experience, and increased selections that this free market legislation affords,” said Ken DeLuca, vice president of Dillons Food Stores. “It is disappointing that instead of advocating for Kansas consumers, the opposition continues to hide behind outdated protectionist law. The reality is that consumers in the vast majority of other states already enjoy the freedom to responsible choose where they purchase their adult beverages and Kansas should foster the same business practices.”

Under SB 298, voters who favorably passed the Uncork Kansas measure would be permitting grocery and convenience stores to sale regular strength beer and lift restrictions requiring them to sell only 3.2% beverages. It would also allow grocery stores to purchase a liquor license from an existing owner to retail wine and spirits. This provides existing liquor store owners with options as Kansas transitions to a stronger free market environment for adult beverage sales.

The bill will foster economic growth, recapture lost sales to bordering states, and provide Kansans the choice and convenience of where to purchase legal adult beverages.

“This should not be an issue in Kansas,” said Karen Washburn, a retiree from Olathe, Kan., who testified in favor of SB 298. “Liquor stores have stooped to new lows to protect their monopoly and deprive Kansans of the free-market choice that so many other states offer their citizens. I’m confident legislators will see through their scare tactics and finally pass this consumer friendly bill.”

Further action on SB 298 is not expected until after the legislature returns from their scheduled April break. At that time, both the Senate and the House will consider the Uncork Kansas legislation introduced in both bodies.

Uncork Kansas to Go Before Senate Committee with SB 298



Efforts to bring Kansas consumers options in how they purchase adult beverages will extend to the Senate Federal and State Affairs committee next week. Uncork Kansas supporters will testify in favor of SB 298 Tuesday, March 31st, at 10 a.m. as part of continued efforts to modernize outdated alcohol regulations that restrict consumer choice. The proposed bill mirrors legislation that was passed out of the House Commerce committee, but also includes a county option. The county option will give Kansas citizens the opportunity to cast their vote in favor of the freedom to decide where they purchase beer, wine, and spirits.


“Current liquor laws restrict the freedoms of Kansas consumers,”  said David Dillon, Uncork Kansas chairman and former chairman and CEO of supermarket and convenience store Kroger Co. “Adults should have the ability to choose when and where they make purchases—and businesses operating in a free market should be afforded the right to meet customer demand.”


Established in 1948 when Prohibition was repealed, today’s law allows inequity in the marketplace as it imposed restrictions on liquor store owners ability to own multiple locations or sell non-alcoholic products and established anti-consumer protections within the industry.  Under SB 298, such restrictions would be lifted and a cap would be placed on the number of licenses available. Grocery and c-stores could sell regular strength beer and would permit grocery stores to sell wine and spirits in a segregated area if they purchased an existing license from a current liquor license holder.


In addition, bill language stipulates the change would happen at the county level if the populous voted in favor of such change during a general election. County option has been the primary vehicle for changing Kansas liquor laws and was the tool used to bring liquor by the drink to Kansas in 1987.


“It's unfortunate consumers will have to wait until they can vote on this issue to enjoy the freedoms most every other state currently has in regard to the purchase of adult beverages. Given that the citizens of Kansas desire options in the marketplace, we believe the outcome in the recent Tennessee election, where 100 percent of the 78 participating municipalities voted to allow grocery stores to sell wine, is an excellent indicator for how Kansans will vote when they have the option,” stated Jessica Lucas, Uncork Kansas spokesperson. 


Supporters of Uncork Kansas legislation should contact members of the Senate Fed and State Committee urging them to VOTE YES for SB 298! 

Chairman Ostmeyer - 785-371-9074

Senator Mitch Holmes - 785-371-9076

Senator Rob Olson - 785-371-9218

Senator Oletha Faust-Goudea - 785-330-5282

Senator Rick Wilborn - 785-371-9229

Senator Tom Holland - 785-371-9141

Senator Kay Wolf - 785-296-7390

Senator Jake LaTurner - 785-296-7370

Senator Jeff Longbine - 785-296-7384

One Step Closer!



Uncork Kansas Legislation to Modernize State Liquor Laws Passes Committee

HB 2200, offering Kansans choice and convenience while stimulating the economy, continues moving forward


TOPEKA, KAN. —February 23, 2015 – In a victory for consumers, the Kansas House Committee on Commerce passed a 10-7 vote to send HB 2200 onto the House of Representatives for consideration.   

With HB 2200, grocery and convenience stores will be allowed to sale regular strength beer and would no longer be required to sell only 3.2% beverages. The bill will also permit grocery stores to purchase a liquor license from an existing owner to retail wine and spirits. This provides existing liquor store owners with options as Kansas transitions to a stronger free market environment for adult beverage sales.  The bill will foster economic growth, recapture lost sales to bordering states, and provide Kansans the choice and convenience of where to purchase legal adult beverages.

 “Today is a major step forward for the Uncork Kansas effort and a great day for Kansas consumers," said Dave Dillon, Chairman of Uncork Kansas.  "We would like to share our appreciation to the committee and to all Kansans who voiced their support. We urge Kansans to continue to contact their legislators in support of this bill."

Now that the bill is out of committee, it will go to the House for a floor vote. In other words, there is still more to do! You can help by contacting your Representative and Senator. Please send an email via Upon achieving a vote count in the House with 63 favorable votes, the issue will move to the Senate. Stay with us - this is the year for Uncork Kansas legislation to pass! 

Check out this news clip -



Latest News Items


Our efforts to Uncork Kansas have certainly captured the attention of the Kansas media. We're thrilled to see coverage from all corners of the state. Getting this legislation passed for the benefit of YOU and our other Kansas grocery and c-store customers is our top priority. We appreciate all you've done to help make this happen. THANK YOU for taking the time to reach out to your legislators via email or by texting UNCORK to 555888. 


Here's a few of the articles that have recently featured Uncork Kansas. If you have questions or are uncertain about anything you've read, feel free to contact us directly at 

Marysville Online

The Kansan (Newton)

Wichita Eagle

KWCH (Wichita)

Topeka Capital Journal

Wichita Business Journal

Derby Informer

Garden City Telegram





Uncork Kansas Proposes Legislation to Modernize State Liquor Laws



House Bill offers Kansans choice and convenience, while stimulating the economy

TOPEKA, KAN. —January 28, 2015 – Uncork Kansas introduced new legislation in the House of Representatives Federal and State Affairs committee today, the first step in their continued legislative effort to modernize state liquor laws.  Current law prohibits convenience and grocery stores from selling adult beverages. Under the proposed bill, state law would change to allow c-stores and grocers to sell regular strength beer instead of 3.2% beer.  The bill also permits grocery stores to purchase a liquor license from an existing owner to protect existing liquor store owners who don’t want to compete in a competitive market environment.  Liquor store owners will also be able to expand their merchandising to sell ice, mixers, and other non-alcoholic products. The bill will foster economic growth, recapture lost sales to bordering states, and provide Kansans the choice and convenience of where to purchase legal adult beverages.

“Kansas consumers win when retailers compete. They win on price, selection, and the overall shopping experience,” said David Dillon, Uncork Kansas chairman and former chairman and CEO of supermarket and convenience store The Kroger Co. “As grocers, we are used to helping our customers get the products they want to buy. Current Kansas law doesn’t allow for that. Consumers should have the ability to choose when and where they make purchases—and businesses operating in a free market should be afforded the right to meet customer demand.”

According to opinion polling, a clear majority of Kansans support changing the law to allow convenience and grocery stores to carry full-strength alcoholic beverages. Polling also showed nearly a quarter of all Kansans have left the state to purchase alcohol across the border – and most said they would stay in-state for their purchases when the law is changed. Dillons’ customers across Kansas also voiced similar opinions regarding a desire for change. During a recent state-wide Uncork Kansas awareness campaign, store customers were invited to sign a postcard to share their viewpoints with legislators and to join a texting initiative. The response was overwhelming, resulting in more than 7,000 hand-written postcards signed during the 12-hour campaign.

“Kansans deserve as much consumer choice and competition for their hard earned dollars as possible,” Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce (R-Nickerson) said. “This bill takes a responsible, common sense approach towards modernizing some of our state’s most outdated regulations. As a proponent of free market solutions, I proudly support this measure.”

Kansas is one of only five states that still retails 3.2% beer and remains one of a handful of states granting exclusive right to sell wine and liquor to state-licensed liquor stores.

“Our customers deserve better. Existing law is anti-consumer, restricts economic growth, and in many cases, drives Kansans across state lines in search of a more convenient way to shop,” Dillon said.

A hearing for the Uncork Kansas bill will take place in early February, but the date has not been set yet.

Even the Opposition Agrees Uncork Bill "Not the Worst Idea"



Kansas to revisit liquor law yet again

By ANDRA BRYAN STEFANONI | Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2015 10:00 pm

Debates will again wage in Kansas as to whether the state should allow alcoholic beverages to be sold anywhere other than liquor stores, something that neighboring Missouri allows and has for many years.

“Kansans have been asking for this for decades,” said Jessica Lucas, a spokeswoman for Uncork Kansas.

Conflicts began in 2010 with the introduction of a bill to the Kansas Legislature, and continued last year with the introduction of a similar measure, which died in committee.

It concerned liquor store owner Timothy Scott, who said he is one of many liquor store owners in Southeast Kansas who aren’t yet convinced the bill is going to be a good thing.

“When a lot of people, like me, got into this business, we didn’t have the threat of the larger grocery stores coming into smaller towns,” said Scott, who owns Cowtown Liquor in Baxter Springs.

“Mom and pop businesses can’t go up against the buying power of stores like that," he said. "Distributors give them different rates. They can spend more on advertising. They’re already so well known — a brand name.”

In short: He worries it could put some liquor stores out of business.

This year, the group will again try to persuade lawmakers to vote in favor of the bill, but not in its original form.

This year, there is both a new proposal and a new leader: David Dillon, who retired as chairman of Kroger, the parent company of Dillons grocery stores. Wal-Mart, QuikTrip and Hy-Vee also support the coalition.

Lucas said the bill is to include a permanent cap on the number of liquor licenses the state issues — a provision designed to ease fears that the measure would spur the closing of mom-and-pop liquor stores.

Grocery stores could obtain their licenses only by purchasing them from small liquor store owners, in the event those owners want to retire or close.

The bill also would allow convenience stores in Kansas, currently limited to selling beer containing 3.2 percent alcohol and wine coolers, to sell 5.0 beer.

And it would allow liquor stores, which now may sell only alcoholic beverages, to also sell snacks, cigarettes, ice, mixers and other related items.

Keep Kansans in Business, an organization of liquor stores that has opposed versions of the bill in the past, remains skeptical.

“No one has seen the bill,” said Spencer Duncan, director of the group. “History tells us to believe it when we see it. Even though they’re saying the bill will do a lot of things, until we see it, I’m not sure that’s accurate.”

Duncan said his group’s opposition or approval of the measure would “depend on what the cap looks like.”

“Is it for two years, 10 years, infinite? Does it ensure that counties, some of which have one or two liquor stores, would retain the licenses there? We don’t want one in western Kansas to lose a store because a store in Johnson County wants to sell liquor.”

Duncan conceded that “in theory, it’s not the worst idea.”

“But in practice, we have to look at how they’re going to craft their suggestion.”

His group also is concerned about the impact on the state’s 12 dry counties when it comes to the 3.2 beer issue, and about convenience stores potentially selling craft beers, which often exceed 5.0 and can reach 11 percent.

Lucas said the new form was a meeting of the minds of both sides.

“Our customers want to be able to go to Dillons and pick up a bottle of wine if they choose,” Lucas said. “It does change the face of the market, which is of concern to many, but it’s our best faith effort and it’s a great compromise.”

Customer Pittsburg resident James Ryals said he would support such a measure.

“The ability to buy wine while shopping for groceries would be fantastic,” Ryals said. “Plus, Aldi’s has a great wine selection that we miss out on here in Pittsburg.”

Lucas said there has not yet been a committee hearing; she anticipates the bill being proposed “within a couple of weeks.”

“With this bill, liquor store owners have all the power,” she said. “No one can get it unless an owner chooses to sell.”

Kansas is one of five states, in addition to Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah and Minnesota, that sells only 3.2 beer in grocery and convenience stores.

“The people of Kansas have never had the benefit of what a competitive market brings: lower prices, better services, more options. They want the same opportunities they see across the border in Missouri, Nebraska, and 36 other states," she said.

Rep. Adam Lusker, D-Frontenac, who is in his second session representing the 2nd District in Southeast Kansas, said he is uncertain where he stands on such a measure, but noted his district — entirely rural — doesn’t have any large grocery stores.

He is concerned, he said, about how it might impact mom-and-pop businesses.

“The big winners seem to be those companies out of Bentonville, Cincinnati, Des Moines — they’re the ones pushing hard. I’m concerned about how it will affect local owners, as those are your neighbors.”

“But on the other side, convenience store owners have been hit really hard in the last few years on the price of gas,” he said. “They’re losing a couple cents on each gallon of gas, and with pay at the pump now, people aren’t going in as much for inside sales. So I can see the good to it for them.”

Lusker cited a public opinion poll done in 2013 that indicates “people support the system we have now,” he said.

The poll, done by Public Opinion Strategies, showed 66 percent opposed changing current law, while 29 percent supported changing it.

“But I’m continuing to look into it,” Lusker said.

Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, who is in his third session representing the 13th District in Southeast Kansas, said he continues to hear from constituents on both sides of the issue.

“My prediction, where we stand today, is that the liquor store owners and the big box stores are going to work out a compromise,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to pick a winner or loser in this battle.”

LaTurner visited with a liquor store owner from Manhattan last week who was “very much in favor of current compromise.”

LaTurner himself approves of changes to the measure, which he calls “improvements,” including capping the number of licenses issued.

“I think they’re getting closer,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way everybody can live with.”

“I’m still talking to folks back home, hoping we can get somewhere on it. It’s been a longtime issue, well before my time, and it’s time to get it done.”


Uncork Kansas, a 1,700-member coalition, describes itself as a movement to “eliminate protectionist Kansas liquor laws” by allowing consumers to decide where to buy alcoholic beverages.

 **The original article cited c-stores could obtain a license to sell wine and spirits. We have contacted the Joplin Globe to change this and corrected in the text above. C-stores would only be eligible to sell real beer; licenses for wine and spirits would only be available to grocery stores for purchase. 

More Uncork Kansas in the News!



Check out these news stories from the Wichita and Kansas City market!

Kroger renewing push to sell wine, liquor



Published in Manhattan Mercury

Brady Bauman - 

In 1881 Kansas was the first state to ban alcohol and that ban lasted until 1948, making it the last state to move away from the prohibition era.

But, old habits die hard and Kansas' liquor policy is still tied to laws drafted decades ago. That policy is generating friction between liquor store owners and general retailers.

Uncork Kansas, a political organization chaired by retired Kroger Foods CEO David Dillon, is lobbying state legislators to allow grocery stores like Dillon's to sell “full-strength” beer, wine and spirits.

Right now, liquor stores and bars are the only entities permitted to sell those items. While grocery stores and gas stations can sell beer, they are limited to beer that is 3.2 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to the normal offering of 3.6 percent or higher. 

There are 12 other states that do not allow wine or spirits to be sold in grocery stores including neighboring Oklahoma and Colorado. 

Dillon, who was in the Westloop Dillon's Thursday afternoon, said it's all a matter of fairness and that he wants to provide a product he said his customers ask for. 

Dillon also said Uncork Kansas has tried to find middle ground with liquor store owners by lobbying Topeka to freeze the current number of liquor licenses in the state so that a grocery store would have to buy an existing license, which, he contends, would fetch a high price because new ones wouldn't be available. The group's initial proposal didn't include that provision. 

There are currently 752 liquor licenses in Kansas. 

“I think we've arrived at the point where the Legislature can anytime now say, 'This is actually a good idea now, let's go with it,'” Dillon said. 

Uncork Kansas hopes to see legislation reach the House Standing Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development this year. 

When Dillon was the CEO of Kroger, he said getting involved in public policy wasn't something he was ever that interested in. 

“Lots of companies take active positions on anything that's in their best interest with the Legislature. And that's fine. I don't have an objection with that,” he said. “I personally felt that was not a productive use of our time and our people.” 

Still, Dillon said he'd always set a rule of thumb that he would get involved if it was an issue that reflected his customers. 

“It's clear in my mind,” he said. “It's what our customers want from us.” 

Liquor store owners in Manhattan, however, have mixed feelings. 

Filby's Liquor Store owner Matt Smithhisler said he's interested in Uncork Kansas' approach. 

Smithhisler took over Filby's five years ago as a favor to his friend, Jeff Filby, who was in poor health. 

Smithhisler sees Uncork Kansas' approach as one that can help him retire with something in his pocket, rather than falling to a bigger competitor when, as he says, the type of legislation Dillon is trying to get passed inevitably does. 

“They're not going away,” Smithhisler said at his store, just east of the Four Points by Sheraton, Wednesday afternoon. “It's not if this happens, it's when this happens.” 

Smithhisler said that the cloud hanging over the future of the alcohol marketplace in Kansas has made a business like his hard to sell and even harder for anyone else to start – especially if they're looking for help from a bank, who Smithhisler said is also aware of the uncertainty concerning the future of Kansas liquor laws. 

“I'm 57 years old,” he said. “I'm rapidly approaching retirement and I am solely protecting my interest in this business. I can't sell this business. Nobody in their right mind would buy a liquor store in the state of Kansas right now with this uncertainty hanging over our heads.' 

Kevin Neitzel, who owns the The Fridge on Claflin Avenue, understands the position smaller stores like Smithhisler's are in, and doesn't fault them for supporting Dillon's efforts. He also shares the viewpoint that a future with Kansas grocery stores selling what he can sell is a certainty. But that doesn't mean he's very excited about that prospect. 

“Dealing with 21 year olds handling all this stuff opposed to 18 year olds or 15 year olds,” he said. “You have to be 21 to work here. Just different things like that. They don't want to change one rule when they do it, they want to change every rule. 

“If you can't buy the product, why would you let them handle it?” 

Dillon said he'd work with whatever requirements that the state mandates if his lobbying efforts pay off. And he also said liquor stores in other states where laws have changed have adapted to serve specialty markets with successful results. 

Still, Neitzel worries stores like his — and especially smaller ones – will suffer and lose their battle against bigger corporations like Kroger, Hyvee and Walmart, who have been kept out of their market. 

“They have enough money,” he said. “I'm sure they can get anything done they want to get done. I see their point on some things. I see why they want to. If someone came into our store and said, 'Man, I wish I could buy that here,' as an owner you want to do everything you can to provide that product. You want to deliver that as a business.” 

But Neitzel feels like his back would be against the wall if a large box store — with far more space to use — is able to sell what he sells. And he also doesn't expect any of them to try and buy out his liquor license when they can go to a smaller store for a cheaper price. 

“They'll come in and flex their muscles right away,” he said. 

For Smithhisler, though, a lot of his frustration stems to the prohibition era that shaped today's liquor laws in the state. 

“It's time Kansas gets in the 21st century,” he said. 

David Dillon leading fresh push for supermarket sales of full-strength liquor





01/09/2015 9:14 PM  

A coalition of supermarket and convenience store chains is getting ready to make another run at changing Kansas law to allow the chains to sell stronger booze.

Previous efforts over about the past five years have fallen short in the state Legislature, largely because of the potential to drive existing licensed liquor stores out of business.

But the coalition, called Uncork Kansas, has a new proposal and a new leader in David Dillon, retired chairman and chief executive of the Kroger Co. Kroger is the parent company of Dillons stores. It’s the nation’s largest supermarket chain and second-largest retailer behind Wal-Mart, which also supports the coalition along with Hy-Vee and QuikTrip.

The coalition’s new bill hasn’t been introduced yet. According to Dillon, it will include a provision to cap the number of liquor licenses to allay legislators’ fears that big-box booze will drive the owners of small and family-owned liquor stores into bankruptcy.

Those that want to stay in business would have to adapt, Dillon said. He suggested that they could, by specializing in offering a broader selection of wines and/or locally produced beverages such as microbrew beers and craft liquors.

Convenience stores, which are currently limited to selling 3.2 beer and low-alcohol wine coolers, would be able to sell full-strength beer, Dillon said.

Grocery stores and supermarkets, now limited to 3.2 beer and wine coolers, would be able to offer a full line of beer, wine and spirits.

Liquor stores, now limited to selling only alcoholic beverages, would be able to expand their product lines and offer mixers, snacks, cigarettes, ice and other goods that go with drinks.

House hearing

Rep. Mark Hutton, the chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee that will handle the bill, said he is committed to giving it a hearing and a vote to see if it rises or falls on its merits.

Hutton, R-Wichita, said he hasn’t seen the actual bill. “I’m anxious to read it like everybody else.”

Last year’s Uncork Kansas bill died in the committee, which was then chaired by Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, who opposed it.

Hutton said he supports the concept of allowing supermarkets to sell the stronger alcoholic beverages and eliminating the current system where such sales are limited to stand-alone liquor stores.

“I’m a free-market guy and right now it’s not a very free market with the way it’s set up,” Hutton said. “But the transition to that has to protect the small business people who have invested their life savings and more in their businesses.”

The proposal may not be an easy sell to some lawmakers.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said he’s mostly concerned about potential social and law-enforcement impacts if the state opens grocery stores to full-strength alcohol sales.

“I’ve always taken the position that hard liquor and hard beer and those kinds of things don’t have any place in a supermarket,” Carmichael said. He said having alcoholic beverages “on the shelf next to the Coca-Cola” sends the wrong message to minors.

“I think it keeps young people from understanding the fact that alcoholic beverages are for adults,” he said.

He also said that some liquor stores, including one near his home, will refuse to sell even to a person of legal age if there are strong indications that they’re buying for minors outside in the parking lot.

“That’s not going to happen when it’s Wal-Mart and Dillons,” he said.

Dillon said such concerns are misplaced. Grocery stores already sell a variety of adult-only products, such as 3.2 beer, cigarettes and pharmaceuticals, and are as capable of preventing sales to minors as anyone else, he said.

Liquor stores’ reaction

Keep Kansans in Business, an organization of liquor stores that has fended off previous Uncork Kansas bills, said the store owners as a group remain skeptical.

“As far as we know, nothing’s changed,” said Spencer Duncan, director of Keep Kansans in Business. “History tells us that what they say and what they put on paper are two very different things, and until we see a bill that does anything that they claim it will do, nobody’s believing it.”

Duncan said the liquor store owners and Uncork Kansas have had informal talks and Keep Kansans in Business members have attended legislative meetings where Uncork has pitched its ideas.

“Last year they went around and told (liquor store) retailers that they were writing a bill that gave them value for their license and would have people have to buy their license,” Duncan said. “That was not in the bill, but you had many retailers who they stood in their store and told that to.”

He said the group isn’t fundamentally opposed to capping the number of licenses and making grocery stores have to buy licenses from existing liquor stores.

“But what is that system going to look like?” Duncan said. “Is it going to be a cap for one year, or two years, for infinity? ‘Cause that makes a big difference.”

He also said there would need to be some provision for protecting access for stores that are not part of deep-pocket chains.

“Who do you think’s going to buy those licenses?” he said. “It’s not going to be the mom-and-pop grocery store and it’s not going to be the mom-and-pop convenience store. It’s going to be the big corporate Wal-Marts, Krogers. They can afford to buy those licenses.”

The Legislature returns to Topeka for its annual session beginning Monday. The bill is expected to be introduced soon after.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or


Grocery store industry begins new push to allow strong beer, wine, liquor sales



By Chad Lawhorn, Lawrence Journal World

January 10, 2015

There’s a new plan and a new face working to convince Kansas lawmakers to allow grocery stores across the state to sell “strong beer," wine and liquor.

Native Kansan David Dillon, the retired CEO and chairman of grocery giant The Kroger Co., has become the leader of the Uncork Kansas coalition, which is seeking legislation to end the longtime Kansas law that limits liquor sales only to licensed liquor stores.

“Consumers are going to win on convenience, variety and price because there is more competition,” Dillon said.

Previous attempts to change the law in Kansas have failed. Dillon said Uncork Kansas is proposing a new plan this year. Unlike past efforts, convenience stores would not be allowed to sell liquor and wine under the proposal. But convenience stores would be able to sell “strong beer.” Currently, only liquor stores are allowed to sell strong beer, while convenience stores and grocery stores are limited to beer that has an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less.

Grocery stores would be allowed to sell the trio of strong beer, wine and liquor. But grocery stores would be required to purchase a liquor retail license from an existing liquor store. The coalition also is proposing that the number of liquor store licenses forever be capped at its current level of 752 licenses. Dillon said that would make existing licenses much more valuable, and would serve as a way of compensating existing liquor store owners who want to exit the industry.

“If you don’t want to sell, I can’t make you sell,” Dillon said. “I would have to get the price high enough to make you want to sell your license.”

Opponents of the law change, however, note that the convenience stores would not need to buy an existing liquor license to begin selling strong beer. That would potentially add thousands of new competitors to liquor stores, many of which rely heavily on beer sales.

“We have studies showing that 40 to 50 percent of liquor stores won’t remain profitable,” Amy Campbell, executive director of the Kansas Association of Beverage Retailers, said of a widespread expansion of strong beer.

She said the law change would put many small businesses out of business, and the current system is doing a good job of keeping liquor out of the hands of minors.

“I would suggest it is a solution in search of a problem,” Campbell said.

Dillon said customers have been asking for the change for years. Many have lived in states where wine and liquor sales in grocery stores are common. He said with the increase in craft beers, many of which don’t produce 3.2 percent beer, the need for grocery stores to sell strong beer has increased.

Plus, Dillon said he thinks the new law could help shore up the financial health of some grocery stores in rural Kansas communities.

“The value of a grocery store in a small community is really, really important,” Dillon said. “If you can add wine and regular beer to those stores’ mix, it increases their viability.”

The Uncork Kansas effort marks a return to the state for Dillon, who is the great-grandson of the founder of the Dillons grocery store brand. Dillon retired as Kroger’s chairman last month, and has moved with his family back to the Kansas City metro area, he said. Dillon is a graduate of KU’s School of Business, and he said he hopes to be more active in KU efforts in future years.

“I know I’m going to get to use my own Kansas basketball tickets instead of my kids using all of them,” Dillon said. “I am looking forward to becoming involved in more Kansas issues.”

Popular Blogger "Snarky in the Suburbs" Weighs In



My New Year’s resolution is to be open to change, to fully embrace the concept of adapting. It can be challenging to welcome change with a great big hug.  It’s not easy letting go of what you’ve always been doing. Now add in being voted into office, and the fear that if you make a change you face backlash, possibly losing the next election… and downright creepy (and grammatically challenged) emails.

I understand all this and I sympathize, but I’m here to tell you: If I – a weary, multi-tasking, middle-aged mother – can vow to cuddle up to change, the Kansas legislature can do it, too. The first place they should start? Our state’s goofy and downright dumb liquor laws.

1881 is the year Kansas was the first state to constitutionally ban alcohol, and we’ve been stuck in what amounts to a legislative black hole since then. Yep, our liquor buying and selling regulations date back to the same period in time as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral when women were wearing bustles and still churning butter. The fact that any facet of modern retail is predicated on such antiquated laws is like a bad Saturday Night Live skit.

Is it asking too much to have 21st century legislation (forget that, I’d take 20th century) so I can buy a bottle of wine at the grocery store (not to mention a corkscrew at the liquor store) or a real beer?

Because let me tell you what happens when I can’t. Every week, a lot of my money goes next door to Missouri. In this age of “right now retail” (Amazon, Zappo’s, anyone?) it’s all about one stop shopping. If I need wine I’ll go get my groceries (and corkscrew) in Missouri – and then, because the gas pumps are right there, I’ll fill up my tank, too.

Not that Missouri isn’t a fine state, but I’d much rather my tax dollars stay in Kansas. I mean, have you looked at our budget? Just wow! I’m no fiscal genius, but I’m going to say without hesitation, that Kansas really needs my money to stay put.

I know there’s concern that local liquor merchants might face some economic uncertainty if the law is changed and I can get my Pinot Grigio at the supermarket. To that I have to say, “too bad, so sad.” When did the purveyors of alcohol in Kansas become a protected class? It’s beyond ludicrous. Basically, we treat booze merchants better than our teachers. (How messed up is that?) And as a woman who appreciates quality customer service, I’m going to guess that if a liquor store with a history of providing a pleasant shopping experience coupled with a knowledgeable staff, they’ll continue to thrive.

Do not even get me started on the fairy tale that buying alcohol from a “liquor only” store keeps teens from drinking. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be less true. Take it from a mom in the teen-raising trenches. Most (if not all) minors are getting their alcohol from their parents’ homes.

This is not just me spouting off; I’ve got National Institute of Health statistics to back me up. More importantly, if I felt that keeping alcohol out of grocery stores would cut back on underage drinking, I’d be all for it. It’s not. You know what keeps kids from drinking? Parents - vigilant, involved, responsible parents.

I’m also going to tattle a bit here. When I do buy liquor in Kansas I don’t get I.D’d. But, when I go to Missouri and buy a bottle of Skinny Girl Tangerine Vodka at a grocery store, it’s like going through the TSA line at the airport. Grocery stores check EVERYONE’s driver’s license. You could be 98-years-old, in a wheelchair, with an oxygen mask Gorilla Glued to your face and you probably still would have to show proof of age.

Seriously, Kansas politicians: take a big step out of your “way back” machine and realize the people of this great state don’t need a 19th century legislative nanny. It’s 2015. It’s time to say hello to common sense commerce and keeping tax dollars in Kansas. Let’s wave goodbye once and for all to 1881 (not that I have anything against the bustle).

If you’re with me, let your legislator know. You can find more information at

Sherry Kuehl of Leawood, Kansas, writes the popular blog which was optioned by ABC Studios for film and television. She’s the author of two books: Snarky in the Suburbs Back to School and Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble in Texas. Ms. Kuehl can also be seen on morning television dispensing “21st century advice with an attitude” with her “Dear Snarky” segment and she has a weekly column in the Kansas City Star that features her unique take on life.


Her background is in broadcast journalism. She’s an award-winning producer and journalist having worked for CNN, The Wall Street Journal Report, Public Television and Cox News.