Bill would allow liquor sales at grocery stores
Kansas grocery and convenience store owners are teaming up in an attempt to get legislation passed that would allow package liquor, wine and strong beer to be sold at their stores, while liquor store owners are asking legislators not to pass it.
The “Uncork Kansas” group argues that Kansas’ liquor laws are “antiquated” and have encouraged the Kansas Legislature to pass a bill that would enable the sale of strong beer and alcohol at grocery and convenience stores. Members of the group contend that liquor store owners’ fears that they will be put out of business are unfounded, as are fears that selling alcohol in grocery stores will put more liquor into the hands of minors.
However, House Bill 2200, which would give grocery and convenience stores an avenue to sell strong beer and liquor if passed, was recently withdrawn from the Kansas House of Representatives calendar and re-referred to the House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development. The bill was introduced by the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs in February.
Becky Hutchins, who represents the Holton area in the Kansas House of Representatives, said she does not currently support the bill, which would go into effect in July 2018 if passed.
“Someone will have to convince me why this bill will be good for my district and how it will impact my small businesses,” Hutchins said.
At stores in Holton, support for the bill varies from store to store. While Ella Bahret, manager of Southside Liquor, says she doesn’t believe her store will be affected negatively if HB 2000 is passed, Kenny Jerome, owner of Jerome Liquor, believes if passed, stores like his will go out of business.
“I think it’s a very good possibility,” Jerome said. “I’ve been working with our legislators and our liquor union, and we’ve been doing our best to keep our businesses going.”
Next door to Jerome, at Ron’s IGA, manager Scott Coleman said that in regard to liquor sales, while he is “in favor of opening it up” to grocery and convenience store owners in Kansas, he doesn’t have any plans to follow suit.
“I’m not sure I would open my own liquor section,” Coleman said. “But I’m in favor of competition. I’m not a vocal supporter of the new bill, but I do think it’s unusual for Kansas to have a law that makes these sales separate in the first place.”
At some stores in Holton, such as Casey’s General Store and Walmart, the decision to sell liquor will be made at the corporate level. A Walmart representative recently said that if the bill passes, the Holton store would start selling liquor and strong beer for the convenience of its customers.
In the Kansas Legislature, HB 2200 was introduced by the Committee on Federal and State Affairs on Feb. 2, then referred to the Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development almost immediately, Hutchins said. Hearings on the bill were held throughout February, and on Feb. 25, the bill was amended and passed out of committee for debate on the House floor.
But on March 18, House Speaker Ray Merrick announced that HB 2200 had been withdrawn from the House calendar under the heading of general orders and referred back to the Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development.
Uncork Kansas representatives have stated that the legislation would give Kansas liquor store owners the option to sell food and other items to their customers, which is currently prohibited under state law.
As for liquor stores having the ability to sell food and other items they cannot currently sell, opinions again vary at the local level. Jerome said adding food items at his store if the bill is passed is not likely.
“I’d have to expand the size of my business to carry other types of products,” he said. “Those aren’t the types of products I chose to sell when I first got into this business 19 years ago.”
Bahret, on the other hand, said that while part of Southside Liquor would have to be modified for the sale of non-liquor items, she added that she would welcome the opportunity to sell those other items.
“It would be nice to be able to sell things like corkscrews, accessories and other items that we can’t sell now,” she said. “That would be helpful to us.”