Editorial: Liquor sales

Will some new twists tip the balance for the effort to allow Kansas grocery stores to sell wine and liquor?

It will be interesting to see whether having an effective new spokesman will help the Uncork Kansas coalition gain legislative approval for Kansas grocery stores to sell strong beer, wine and liquor.

Efforts to obtain this change have gained momentum in recent years. This year, Uncork Kansas has a new leader and a new plan that might tip the balance. The new leader is David Dillon, a Kansas native whose family founded the Dillons grocery store chain. The group was later sold to Kroger, which Dillon served as CEO and chairman before retiring last month. The new plan involves capping the number of liquor licenses that will be allowed in the state, meaning that any grocery store that wants to sell wine or liquor must buy a license from an existing liquor store owner. Assuming that grocery store sales would run many liquor stores out of business, the need to purchase the license would help compensate the liquor store owners for the loss of their businesses.

Convenience stores, which now can sell only beer with an alcohol content of up to 3.2 percent, would be allowed to sell strong beer without obtaining a liquor license, but not wine or liquor.

There are arguments on both sides of this issue. Allowing grocery stores to sell liquor and wine would be convenient for customers, and, Dillon points out, it might mean the difference between a small-town grocery store being financially viable or having to close its doors. But it would result in the loss of liquor stores, which opponents say do a good job of making sure liquor isn’t sold to minors. Would changing the law increase liquor consumption in Kansas or illegal sales? It’s hard to know.

Kansans sometimes are frustrated with the state’s tradition of quirky liquor laws, but the state isn’t as out of step as one might think. Huffington Post did some research last August and produced a set of maps to illustrate state liquor laws across the nation. Kansas is one of only a handful of states in which grocery stores can sell only 3.2 beer and one of about a dozen where grocery stores can’t sell wine. However, according to the Huffington Post maps, fewer than half of the states allow grocery stores to sell distilled spirits.

The new plan being touted by Uncork Kansas has some new twists that may make it more acceptable even in a state with a strong temperance tradition. Times change; we’ll see how much.