Archive for Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Convenience stores, groceries make push for strong beer sales

February 4, 2004


With the advent of Sunday alcohol sales in several cities and counties across Kansas, lobbyists are pushing Kansas lawmakers to allow the sale of "strong beer" in convenience and grocery stores.

State law now limits beer and wine coolers sold in convenience and grocery stores to a maximum of 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. Strong or "full-strength" beer can only be sold in liquor stores.

That means the Budweiser sold in a grocery store can be no more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. Budweiser sold in a liquor store is 5.5 percent alcohol by volume.

Last year when Leavenworth and Edwardsville exempted themselves from state law and enacted Sunday alcohol sales, they argued the state's 1949 Liquor Control Act was not uniformly applied and therefore open to local exemptions. When a district court judge upheld that interpretation, it paved the way for Sunday sales. That, in turn, led the Kansas Oil Marketers Assn. and the Kansas Grocers Assn., along with convenience store chain QuikTrip, to begin lobbying for strong beer sales.

"What's happening on the border, because of the higher sales, people are just going across the border. This would help the tax basis in Kansas," said QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh.

"There is definitely evidence in border regions: Kansas is losing out on sales tax dollars," said Philip Bradley, executive director of the Kansas Licensed Beverage Assn.

Supporters of convenience store sales of strong beer say there shouldn't be two standards -- weight and volume -- for measuring alcohol content.

"It's like if you say you can drive 55, but over here you can drive 55 miles per hour, but over here you can drive 55 kilometers per hours. They mean two different things," Bradley said. "If you don't know what they mean, it can get very confusing. First you have to unify terms; then you talk about strength."

So what is the difference between alcohol by weight and alcohol by volume? Converting one to another, the amount of alcohol in a bottle of 3.2 percent by weight beer is equal to 4 percent alcohol by volume. Thornbrugh argues the 1 percent difference isn't enough to keep "strong" beer out of grocery and convenience stores.

But because the measurements show a seemingly big difference, some convenience stores find it difficult to compete with liquor stores.

"We used to sell beer, but because the liquor store opened next door, everyone wants the 5 percent beer not 3 percent," said Sohail Anwar, manager at Miller Mart, 2301 Wakarusa Drive.

Another roadblock to changing the law is the chain reaction it could cause, Bradley said.

"If you allow strong beer to be sold in convenience stores, do you then allow liquor stores to sell food and gasoline?" he said. "It's much more complex than it seems at first glance."

No hearings have been scheduled on a House bill that would allow strong beer sales in convenience and grocery stores.

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