Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

Sunday liquor may be on tap

City to consider issue July 1

June 20, 2003


Dan Blomgren doesn't like taking Sundays off. He usually can be found at his store, but he keeps the doors locked even though dozens of people try to get in.

It doesn't make him happy.

"I sell a legal product to people of legal age," said Blomgren, owner of Cork & Barrel liquor stores in Lawrence. "Why should I be pigeonholed and prevented from doing business on Sunday?"

The Lawrence City Commission soon will answer that question. The commission is scheduled to take up the issue of Sunday liquor sales July 1.

Kansas law prohibits alcohol sales on Sundays and holidays. Wyandotte County, however, began the trend to allow Sunday sales last fall, arguing that it could opt out of the law because the state's Liquor Control Act does not apply uniformly to all cities. When the action survived its initial court challenge this year, a host of other northeast Kansas communities followed suit.

The Kansas Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on the issue.

Blomgren wants Lawrence to jump on the bandwagon.

"All you have to do is go to a liquor store parking lot in Missouri on Sunday and count the number of Douglas County plates to see there's a problem," Blomgren said.

It is difficult to tell, though, which way the commission is leaning.

Big money?

The drive to the Show-Me State, where Sunday sales are legal, has long been a weekend staple. Blomgren said Kansans who forgot to stock up Saturday often drove across the border for a case of beer before the big game or to finish a weekend at the lake. Those sales didn't much worry Lawrence merchants.

But that was before seven-day stores sprang up in communities around Lawrence.

"When Johnson County, Wyandotte County, Franklin County and Leavenworth County do it and you're surrounded, I have to open on Sunday to protect my Saturday sales," said Joe Schmidtberger, owner of Alvin's Wine and Spirits in Lawrence.

Schmidtberger is not convinced opening on Sunday would equal any more sales. In fact, he's concerned staying open the extra hours will cost him money.

"How much am I going to have to pay an employee to work on Sunday? Time and a half?" said Schmidtberger. "If you can make $30,000 in six days instead of in seven days, why stay open seven? It doesn't make sense."

Schmidtberger is backed up by the June issue of the trade journal Kansas Beverage News. The magazine looked at recent sales tax revenue collected by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division from Wyandotte and Johnson counties. Wyandotte allows sales on Sundays; Johnson doesn't.

For the study period, the counties registered similar increases in sales, though stores in Wyandotte County were selling an extra day per week.

Split commission

Lawrence City Commissioner David Schauner said the study results made sense.

"It's hard for me to believe a meaningful number of people will get in their automobiles and drive an hour to Wyandotte County to buy a fifth of Jack Daniel's," Schauner said. "If you drink that much, I suspect you've planned ahead."

When the City Commission takes up the topic, Schauner says he'll listen with an open mind, but he's not convinced a change is a good idea.

He is particularly uncomfortable with the way the law would work. Even if liquor stores were allowed to open Sunday, grocery stores and convenience stores still would be prohibited from selling beer and other alcoholic beverages on those days.

"It seems to me that's an inherent competitive disadvantage to a lot of our retailers," Schauner said.

Mayor David Dunfield disagrees. He said the passage of similar laws in other counties created the problem. And he favors a change in Lawrence.

"I really don't see a downside," Dunfield said.

Two other commissioners, Boog Highberger and Mike Rundle, said they were undecided on the issue. Commissioner Sue Hack was unavailable for comment.

For its part, Kansas Mothers Against Drunk Driving is staying silent on the issue. Max Sutherland, MADD's state administrator, said his chapter took its cues from the national organization, which has no position on Sunday sales. But Sutherland said people were already drinking and driving on Sundays.

"Sunday is the second-worst day for drunk driving in Kansas," Sutherland said. "And those aren't all at 3 in the morning ... lots are in the afternoon."

If commissioners vote to change the law, City Manager Mike Wildgen said the process would take several months. That means liquor stores would have to stay closed on Sundays until September, at the earliest.

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