TOPEKA — A coalition of Kansas grocery stores and a lone Kansas consumer Monday shared with a House committee reasons for breaking free of a state law limiting certain businesses to selling 3.2-percent beer and allowing them to move into the more lucrative market of wine and full-strength beer sales.
The bill is more limiting than previous retail reform legislation because it would only add sales of wine and beer in grocery and convenience stores. Sale of hard liquor would remain the exclusive domain of liquor stores, which also could sell wine and beer. The bill also would enable liquor stores to sell other products aside from alcoholic beverages, and would allow store owners to have multiple liquor licenses.
Opponents of House Bill 2282 were scheduled to deliver testimony today to the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee.
Currently, grocery and convenience stores are only allowed to sell 3.2-percent beer. Proponents say Kansas liquor laws are antiquated and limit businesses’ ability to meet customer demand.
Tom Palace, executive director of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association of Kansas, said people don’t want to buy 3.2-percent beer and brewers have begun phasing out the product.
“3.2 is viewed as a lesser product,” Palace said. “People don’t want to buy it. Our customers want to buy the real beer.”
The bill is modeled after an Oklahoma bill that passed in November. After that law goes into effect, Kansas will be one of only three states that sells the so-called weak beer.
Karen Washburn, a Lenexa resident, testified the current situation is inconvenient and unaccommodating to consumers.
“What I find myself having to do in order to economize my time, is to go to a grocery store that does offer wine sales and guess what? Those are about three miles across the state line,” Washburn said.
Dick Stoffer, director for state government relations for Hy-Vee, said Kansas’ restrictive liquor laws are a main reason the Hy-Vee chain has not expanded in Kansas. Stoffer said this means Kansas is missing out on the reinvestments Hy-Vee offers.
“Dollars made in Hy-Vee are put back into communities that we go to or where we are existing,” Stoffer said.
Written testimony provided by Whole Foods Market also said the laws can prevent the chain from expanding in Kansas.
“When we look for new sites, locations where the laws allow us to sell alcoholic beverages are certainly preferable,” said Ryan Bissett, a representative of Whole Foods Market. “In fact, our ability to sell alcoholic beverages could be the deciding factor in determining whether to sign a lease for a new site or not.”
Representatives who heard the testimony questioned how the bill would affect the market, including smaller liquor stores.
Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka, said he isn’t sure whether allowing grocery stores to sell alcohol is worth the economic value when the law might hurt small liquor businesses.
“My concern is if you’re a small businessperson, then you’re a little more fragile on day-to-day activities than a Dillons, Hy-Vee or a corporation,” Corbet said.
“I’m truly not sure if the big corporations will employ any additional help, where on the other hand for every small liquor store that goes out of business in a small town, they lose the property tax, the insurance agents, the employees will drop off. I think that the financial impact will be a lot harder.”