Lawrence still tops in one alcohol category; Budweiser maker gives local company top award

photo by: Journal-World photos/Chad Lawhorn

Lawrence-based O'Malley Beverage recently won a top award from the makers of Budweiser.

A two-game winning streak by the KU football team is producing a variety of reactions: Meteorologists are checking for a cooling front in Hades, K-State boosters are ensuring their pigs still don’t fly and Jayhawk fans are growing their empty aluminum can collection, if you know what I mean.

Plenty of businesses know exactly what I mean. Liquor is big business in Lawrence, and it becomes bigger if KU football is successful. That is why bar and restaurant owners probably cheer harder than most for KU football victories. The latest numbers from the state show that Lawrence liquor sales were a bit sluggish during the last fiscal year.

The Kansas Department of Revenue recently released its fiscal year 2018 report showing the amount of liquor enforcement taxes collected in all 105 counties across the state. People who shop at liquor stores pay the special 8 percent tax, and so do the owners of bars and restaurants when they buy their liquor from distributors. So the tax receipts are a pretty good indication of how much booze is flowing through the county. This report measures activity from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018.

In simple terms, it shows that the sale of liquor in Lawrence and Douglas County increased during the 12-month period, but at a rate that was below the statewide average. Liquor enforcement tax collections grew by 1.7 percent in Douglas County in fiscal year 2018. Statewide, they were up by 2.7 percent. When you consider these numbers aren’t adjusted for inflation, it appears the volume of liquor sales maybe didn’t grow much at all in Lawrence.

Here is a look at the growth rates in some other counties of note:

• Riley: up 12 percent

• Saline: up 9 percent

• Johnson: up 3.6 percent

• Shawnee: up 3.4 percent

• Sedgwick: up 2.1 percent

• Wyandotte: down 3.2 percent

Those numbers show that Douglas County had the slowest growth rate of the larger counties in the state. They also show that Riley County, home to Manhattan, maybe needs some Tylenol. Of course, it is just guesswork about why Riley County experienced such a large increase. The K-State basketball team did make a deeper than normal run in the NCAA basketball tournament, so perhaps that fueled a new season of celebrations in Manhattan. (Or, perhaps, the much ballyhooed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility that is being built in Manhattan is run by scientists who believe in the very sound strategy that alcohol kills all germs.)

Don’t, however, let any of these numbers fool you into thinking that Douglas County is experiencing some sort of temperance movement. The amount of alcohol sold on a per-capita basis is still among the highest in the state. These liquor enforcement tax numbers can be used to calculate those types of per-capita numbers, if you are willing to do a little math. (That leaves Riley County out. The clicking of the calculator keys is too loud, especially before the Tylenol kicks in.)

Here’s what the numbers show for Douglas County: $4.36 million in liquor enforcement taxes were collected in the county. Since the tax rate is 8 percent, that means about $54.5 million in liquor was sold in the county during fiscal year 2018. According to the latest Census estimates, Douglas County has a population of 120,793 people. That equates to $451 in liquor purchases for every man, woman and child in the county.

Here is a look at other counties, including some smaller ones that also have Regents institutions:

• Ellis (home to Fort Hays State): $411 per capita

• Saline: $406 per capita

• Riley (home to Kansas State): $382 per capita

• Sedgwick (home to Wichita State) : $362 per capita

• Johnson: $358 per capita

• Shawnee (home to Washburn University): $343 per capita

• Wyandotte: $311 per capita

• Lyon (home to Emporia State): $267 per capita

• Crawford (home to Pittsburg State): $244 per capita

The numbers show that Douglas County is a runaway winner in the per-capita drinking category. One caveat is that these numbers aren’t proof that residents drink a lot more than residents in other counties. That may be the case, but it also could be that a community draws in more visitors to drink. The booze that out-of-town football fans buy here counts to our total, for example. That’s why Wyandotte County’s numbers are interesting. You would think they would be higher with the Kansas Speedway and other attractions that are near it. Are these liquor numbers a sign that development isn’t doing as well as it once did?

Price also makes a difference in the numbers. If a town is more disposed to expensive craft beer, for example, that will cause the numbers to go up, even though the amount of alcohol being consumed may not be that different from a place that primarily partakes in domestics.

Putting all that aside, though, Lawrence is quite a bit higher than the other communities. I look at these numbers periodically, but the last time I did a comprehensive analysis was back in 2007. Lawrence was at the top of the list then, as well. But the numbers also show that since 2007 several communities have grown their liquor sales at a rate faster than Lawrence’s. Douglas County’s per-capita liquor sales have grown by 38 percent since 2007. In Johnson County it is 44 percent; 52 percent in Ellis County; 57 percent in Saline County; and 60 percent in Riley County.

In other news and notes from around town:

• It is not just bars and restaurants that make liquor a big business in Lawrence. The community also is home to a couple of liquor distribution companies, and one of them has been deemed to be among the best in the country.

Anheuser-Busch — the maker of Budweiser — recently has awarded O’Malley Beverage of Kansas its Ambassador of Excellence Top Performer designation. Only seven distributors out of 450 across the country received the gold level award from the company.

O’Malley is based in the Lakeview Business Park in northern Lawrence, kind of across the street from the Kmart distribution center and Berry Plastics. It has about 30 employees, and general manager Mike Bourneuf said the company made it a specific goal to win the gold award from Anheuser-Busch.

“It was a great team effort,” Bourneuf said. “It is something we came close to last year, and that really energized us to get it done.”

Distributors win the award based on the processes they use to conduct day-to-day operations, and also based on meeting sales goals. O’Malley distributes beer and related alcoholic products in the six county area of Douglas, Atchison, Jefferson, Leavenworth, Franklin and Anderson counties.

In addition to distributing for Anheuser-Busch, the company also distributes for about 40 other brewers, Bourneuf said.

If the company wins the gold award two more times in the next four years, the distributorship will get a special set of visitors: Anheuser-Busch’s famed Clydesdale team of horses.

• Some of you have noticed there is a large amount of dirt work being done just east of O’Malley’s warehouse. I checked with the city, and no plans are filed there for a new business. Bourneuf said it was nothing his company was doing either. Instead, he said he thought the site was being used to store dirt from other construction jobs that are going on around town.