From the Leader & Times. By Robert Pierce
Today is New Year’s Eve, and as part of the celebration of ringing in 2015, it is expected that Americans everywhere will be consuming a pint or two of alcoholic beverages.
That is the case with Kansas as well, and while liquor stores across the Sunflower State normally have pretty much anything a customer would want, some people would like to have the option to purchase their drinks with their groceries.
This is the thought process behind Uncork Kansas, a movement started a few years ago to eliminate anti-consumer liquor laws so that Kansans can have a choice when it comes to where they buy their adult beverages.
“That was really driven by individual store owners being asked by the customers every day, ‘Where’s the wine? Where’s the real beer?’” said Uncork Kansas spokesman Jessica Lucas.
Lucas said the members of the UK coalition are all competitors, but they came together in a joint effort to get legislation passed and give Kansas consumers what they want.
“As grocers, every day, we respond to our customers’ different requests for items on the shelves, and in order to make this happen for our customers, we have to tackle it at the legislative level,” she said.
What Uncork Kansas is proposing is a cap on alcohol licenses.
“Essentially, if a bill were to pass this coming session, and we believe one will, it would allow for grocery and convenience stores to sell real beer, or essentially get rid of 3.2 beer,” Lucas said.
The spokesman said Kansas is one of only five states that sells 3.2 beer, and new legislation would allow grocery stores to purchase liquor license from existing license holders if a store wanted to sell its license.
“In other words, there would be a freeze on the number of liquor stores that there are, and grocery stores could then purchase a license from a liquor store if they so chose to sell,” she said. “It doesn’t add any more outlets.”
Lucas said there are large and small retailers in the Uncork Kansas coalition.
“You have Casey’s General Stores and independent convenience stores who also want the freedom to sell real beer because that’s what their customers want to buy,” she said.
What the legislation the UK coalition is proposing would do is simply allow license holders to sell their license if they so choose.
“If someone wanted to sell their license to the Dillon’s in Liberal, they could do that,” Lucas said. “Dillon’s then could buy the license, and in one store in Liberal, they could sell wine and spirits.”
Lucas said with a cap on licenses, if liquor store owners choose not to sell, this only hurts consumers who want to buy their alcohol at the grocery store.
“They in effect could continue to do business just as they do now,” she said. “No one has to sell their license. It’s merely an option, and it’s to the benefit of consumers if someone does because it gets them the opportunity to shop for all their products in one place if they choose. That’s what driving this. It is consumers. It’s Kansans who are saying, ‘We’re going to other states, and if it’s there in other states, how come I can’t have that choice? I’m not saying I’m going to buy my alcohol all the time at the grocery store. I likely very well will continue to do a lot of business at the liquor store where I do business now, but I want to have the choice, and I’m tired of the government telling me I have to shop somewhere.’”
Under current Kansas law, an individual can only possess one license, and Lucas said this would change with the proposed legislation.
“People can finally own more than one liquor store, which has been an unfair burden of the law leading up to this point,” she said.
The legislation, if passed, would therefore allow a person to hold more than one license.
“Essentially, the law will allow for multiple ownerships to those liquor store owners who’ve been restricted by the government to only owning one place,” Lucas said. “They can finally expand if they so choose.”
Grocery stores such as Dillon’s are now only able to sell cereal malt beverages, a market Lucas said is shrinking.
“When we talk about what our customers want, craft brewed, micro brewed, those are what are really popular in the market,” she said. “They don’t make those in a 3.2 version, so customers don’t have the option to buy those products at our stores, and they want that.”
Lucas said the legislation helps providers keep up with an ever-changing beer market.
“They want a different type of beer, and it’s a type of beer that we cannot sell them because it’s not made in the 3.2 concentration,” she said. “Our customers want to be able to buy non-3.2 beer. This issue is being forced a little bit by the four other states where 3.2 beer is sold who are also actively trying to get the law changed. As the market for 3.2 beer continues to shrink, we don’t know how long manufacturers are going to say, ‘We’re going to keep continuing to make this product.’”
With Kansas limited in what it can sell to consumers, Lucas said sales tax, as well as sales, dollars are being sent to neighboring state where people can do their shopping in one place.
“That’s a detriment to Kansas grocers and C-stores and to the tax rolls,” she said.
Lucas said she feels unsure of why current laws were passed in the first place, but in today’s age, those rules are sending people to other states to do their shopping.
“We can do that very easily by passing Uncork legislation that will finally free market retail to the sell of beer, wine and spirits and recapture those lost dollars,” she said.
Uncork Kansas has a Facebook page, and Lucas said people from Northeast Kansas comment on the page about making a conscious choice to nearby Missouri to buy alcohol.
“They don’t want to,” she said. “They are because of the conveniences offered there. They’re saying to the government, ‘Please pass this legislation. We are ready for this.’”
Locally, Lucas said she is confident Southwest Kansas consumers go out of state to get the liquor they want.
“I’d be willing to bet if we asked around in Liberal, there’d be a lot of people who tell us they stock up when they go to Texas,” she said.
Lucas said she and other UK officials are hopeful the legislation will be passed in 2015, and she knows everyone will be excited when and if it does.
“Every day, our Facebook has just blown up in popularity,” she said. “I get e-mails. I’ve been getting phone calls from people around the state who say, ‘We want this to pass. What can we do?’ It is what motivates us and why we’re doing this so we can finally bring Kansans what they want.”