TOPEKA — A years-long effort by Kansas grocery and convenience stores that want to sell more alcoholic products culminated in a compromise on Friday when lawmakers agreed to allow them to sell full-strength beer and allow liquor stores to sell more nonalcoholic products.
Uncork Kansas, a group representing grocery and convenience stores, has been advocating for the stores’ ability to sell full-strength beer, wine and liquor in a state that the temperance movement — led in part by famed bar-raider Carry Nation — kept dry for nearly 70 years. National prohibition lasted just 14 years.
The Senate passed the bill 27-11 on Friday, a day after it was approved in the House. The bill now awaits a decision by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
The general effort to get more alcohol in grocery and convenience stores goes back a couple decades, according to Uncork Kansas lobbyist Jessica Lucas. Her group advocated for sales of beer, wine and liquor in grocery stores — the full gambit of what liquor stores sell — but liquor stores said competing with grocery chains could put them out of business.
The compromise measure would allow grocers and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer, up to 6 percent alcohol by volume. Under current law, they can only sell cereal malt beverages, with up to 3.2 percent alcohol by volume.
Liquor stores would retain the right to sell wine and liquor, and they could sell more nonalcoholic products such as mixers, shot glasses, lottery tickets and cigarettes.
Although the compromise is better than past proposals for sales of beer, wine and liquor, some liquor store owners said, the legislation would still make cuts to their profit margins.
Steve Faust owns MDL Wine and Spirits in Overland Park. He said his store would survive, but the new law would have an impact.
“It will decrease my volume, decrease my profitability, potentially decrease the number of employees that I employ,” he said, noting his store sits at an intersection near Hy-Vee grocery and convenience stores, a 7-Eleven and a Phillips 66.
But he said this was a good year to compromise because grocery and convenience stores may soon struggle to find and stock cereal malt beverages.
Colorado and Oklahoma approved the sale of more alcohol in grocery and convenience stores last year, which Lucas said means vendors could reduce the amount of the product they sell. That, she said, would it harder for Kansas grocery and convenience stores to fill their shelves. Oklahoma’s law, which goes into effect in 2018, is being contested by retail liquor groups.
Rep. Les Mason, who chairs the House commerce committee, said the deal prevents grocery store beer sections from drying up if cereal malt beverage isn’t available. The commerce committee heard another bill earlier this session before the compromise was reached. Mason said he hasn’t previously supported alcohol expansion efforts, but he supported the compromise.
Kansas Association of Beverage Retailers lobbyist Amy Campbell said the bill addresses the cereal malt beverage issue while trying to ensure liquor stores aren’t put at a competitive disadvantage.