By a margin of almost two "cheers" for every "no thanks," Douglas County voters Tuesday decided to ease liquor-by-the-drink laws in the county by doing away with the food requirement and private clubs.
County voters approved the ballot question with 26,171 yes votes, or 64.9 percent, to 14,175 no votes, or 35.1 percent.
The vote means the county's liquor-by-the-drink laws probably will change early next week. The state's Alcoholic Beverage Control division will change the law once it receives a letter from Douglas County Clerk Patty Jaimes confirming the election results.
Jaimes and the Douglas County Commission on Friday will examine the ballots to finalize the election results. She said she probably would send the letter to the state on Monday.
The vote on the issue was first raised by Reed Brinton, a partner in Benchwarmers Bar & Grill, 1601 W. 23rd. He said he felt good about the results, which will allow Benchwarmers to shed its private club status.
"To me it's not a drinking or not-drinking issue," he said. "It's the economy of the county and the city of Lawrence. I think this is going to be good for the city, and it's definitely good for the merchants."
BRINTON SAID the new law would keep more out-of-town business at bars as well as retail stores in Lawrence on Kansas University football and basketball game days now that private clubs will be eliminated. He has said Benchwarmers has had to turn away business from out-of-town customers on game days because they were not members of the club.
For drinking establishments, the vote means these businesses no longer are required to earn 30 percent of their gross sales from food. Bar owners had called this law cumbersome and difficult to achieve. In the past, bars that could not meet the food requirement became private clubs or shut down.
Rick Younger, owner of Rick's Place, 623 Vt., said he would keep his kitchen at his bar. Younger changed his business from a private club to a drinking establishment earlier this year.
"I want to sell food," he said. "But you'd be surprised how many people are going to bulldoze their kitchen."
DURING THE CAMPAIGN, Younger said he worked to explain the laws to people to sway them to vote yes. He said he was not looking for a huge influx in business as a result of the vote.
"I honestly believe this has been an antiquated thing that we've dealt with for too long," Younger said. "It's a big rock out of your shoe."
But two local ministers indicated they were pained by the results.
"I think that Lawrence will live to regret this decision," said the Rev. Jim Taylor, pastor of the Indian Hills Church of God, Louisiana Street and 29th Terrace. "I think that you're going to find more alcohol problems and things related to drinking, be it car accidents, fights or disorderlies. You'll see a tremendous increase in these things in the next six months to a year."
The Rev. Ron Kocher, pastor of the Free Methodist Church, 31st and Lawrence Avenue, said he was sorry the question passed. He said he thought abolishing the food requirement would lead to an increased number of drunken drivers on the road.
"Anytime there is more alcohol consumption, there are more social problems," Kocher said. "It does not solve anything the only benefit is to the club owners so they can sell more alcohol. I'm not calling for prohibition, but it's not going to benefit the community it's a detriment."
ONE MINISTER who opposed the question said he had "two hopes raised" by the outcome.
"I hope people will be more responsible when they drink in public," said the Rev. Al Pope, pastor of the Central United Methodist Church, 1501 Mass. "And I hope when people unite in groups that they name a designated driver."
Brinton, who staged voter registration drives at Benchwarmers during the campaign, said the change in the law would not increase the amount of alcohol consumed by his customers.
"They can't drink any more than they already are," he said.
Although his customers may not drink more alcohol, Brinton said he expects more customers on Nov. 14, when KU plays the University of Colorado in the Jayhawks' final home football game this year.