Groups uncorking liquor law issue
By RANDY GONZALES
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, among other groups, favors a proposal to change the sale of alcohol in Kansas. The last two years, efforts have failed to convince the Kansas Legislature to allow the state's grocery stores and convenience stores to sell wine, liquor and full-strength beer.
There will be another effort this year to "modernize these outdated laws," said Sheila Lowrie, a spokesperson for Dillon Stores.
Jody Hanson, public relations representative for Uncork Kansas, a coalition of convenience stores, grocery stores and chambers of commerce supporting a change in the law, said the issue "has been gaining a lot of momentum."
The Hays Area Chamber of Commerce is not a dues-paying member of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. The local chamber was approached by both sides of the issue last year, and the board decided to remain neutral.
"From our perspective, it's about expanding consumer choice and supporting free enterprise and really encouraging healthy competition," Lowrie said. "From our perspective, those are all basic tenets of our economic system.
"We believe we can modernize these laws. There's so many ways consumers and retailers will win, with healthy competition."
Local liquor store owners aren't so sure.
"I think it would be a negative effect on my business," said Nate Wasinger, owner of Nate's Liquor, 700 E. 13th. "I feel like probably what would happen, the big box stores will come in and dominate the market."
A member of management at Walmart, 4301 Vine, declined to comment. Walmart headquarters was unavailable for comment Saturday.
Chandler Schumacher, owner of 8th Street Liquor, 235 W. Eighth, is worried about passage of the proposed bill. He has a wife and one young child, with another on the way. His liquor store is his sole means of income.
"It's scary to me," Schumacher said. "My family, we live out of this place. All of a sudden, we could be just closed down."
Hanson said the legislation would ensure small stores could compete with big box retailers.
"There doesn't need to be any concern about that, because the way the legislation will be written, it addresses that issue," she said. "Everybody is on a level playing field."
Under current Kansas law, wholesale liquor prices are the same for everyone, and retailers can't sell to the public below cost. The proposed bill would keep that in effect.
Hanson cited a 2011 study by the Kansas School of Business that said there would be a net gain in jobs under the proposed law. There would be approximately 1,100 liquor store job losses, but approximately 4,000 new jobs in grocery stores, and 9,300 more convenience store jobs.
Nancy Patel, manager of Convenience Xpress, 335 W. Eighth, would be able to sell liquor and wine under the proposed new law. It would create new business, she said.
"Definitely, it will, because (now) people will go to the liquor store, buy their liquor, and come down here to buy their cigarettes and something to eat," Patel said. "That (law) might save them a trip; that might increase my business here, for sure."
Eber Phelps, who first was elected as a representative to the Legislature in 1996 and served there until he was defeated for re-election in November, said there is a reason the governing body has held back the legislation in the past.
"I think the main reason you don't see that bill going anywhere is the very conservative makeup of the Legislature," Phelps said. "It seems as though anything that has to do with gaming and/or alcohol kind of meets a brick wall.
"Subsequently, something that is going to extend the sales of alcoholic beverages outside the normal venue of a liquor store doesn't even make it out of committee."
Phelps added some lawmakers also are looking out for independent liquor store owners. Sue Boldra, who defeated Phelps in November, declined extensive comment, but added she has a small business herself.
"I haven't been sworn in yet; I'm not ready to make any real comment," she said. "We've had a small business for a long time. A level playing field is very important to me."
Don Hoover, Hays, who was carrying 3.2 beer out of a Dillon store Friday, favors keeping things the same.
"The liquor stores, in general, have enough pressure on them without grocery stores being able to sell the same product," he said. "Grocery stores, by the same token, if they do it justice they're going to have to add on or take something out of the store."
Hanson stressed convenience as one of the main selling points of the proposed law.
"I think definitely the top issue in all of our minds is consumer convenience," Hanson said. "We hear from consumers every day ... they want the convenience to be able to shop for food, and wine and spirits, all in the same shopping trip."
"They don't want government regulating them," she added. "If they are adults over 21, they should be able to go to a grocery store and buy a steak and a bottle of wine, like we do in so many other states."