Sunday, October 26, 2014

State serves another round in liquor talks

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 2/10/2014

A bill under consideration in the Kansas House that would open up liquor sales to grocery and convenience stores could be devastating to existing businesses, one store owner said.

“I think rural community stores would go out of business,” Kenny Platt, owner of Brandywine Liquors, 1605 S. Main St., Ottawa, said.

A bill under consideration in the Kansas House that would open up liquor sales to grocery and convenience stores could be devastating to existing businesses, one store owner said.

“I think rural community stores would go out of business,” Kenny Platt, owner of Brandywine Liquors, 1605 S. Main St., Ottawa, said.

House Bill 2556 would allow an expansion of liquor sales to grocery and convenience stores over a 10-year period, while also allowing liquor stores to begin selling other non-alcoholic products. The legislation, which is sponsored by Uncork Kansas, a coalition of more than 1,700 businesses and associations in Kansas, is intended to eliminate “anti-consumer” regulations, the group said.

Kirby Snider, owner of Blu Sky Liquors, 846 S. Main St., Ottawa, said he’ll have to make changes to keep his business alive if new competitors come into his store’s market. If the bill passes, Snyder plans to open another store next to his current location in which he would sell such non-alcoholic products as cigars and cigarettes, as well as potentially offering household and grocery items, like dairy products.

But the new business strictly would be to minimize damage to his business caused by the bill, he said.

“I hope the bill doesn’t pass,” Snider said. “But this location is suited, if it does pass. I can change it to something different.”

Local liquor stores are not the only businesses with a stake in the bill’s success or failure.

Mike Moon, owner of Moon’s Hometown Market, Osawatomie, said in a news release, current law unfairly prohibits local grocers from selling products that their customers want — like alcoholic beverages — causing damage to their businesses.

“Liquor stores having the exclusive right to sell adult beverages, a known food commodity, puts small-town grocers in Kansas at a disadvantage and limits our ability to compete in the free marketplace,” Moon said. “Small grocery owners, like me, have made significant personal investments in our stores. Our business, already growth-challenged by our competition, is now threatened more and more every day from non-traditional operators expanding into the food business. We must find ways to maintain our top line sales to remain viable in these smaller, often shrinking, communities. The legislature lifting restrictions so we can sell the adult beverages our customers request is critical to our future.”

State Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said he understands both sides of the issue. Those who proposed the bill want to free up restrictions on businesses, he said, while those who oppose it are worried local stores will lose business to larger companies like Walmart and Target.

“[The legislation] has been up for several years here in Topeka,” Finch said when asked if he thought the bill would pass. “It’s hard to predict how it will turn out here in Topeka.”

Finch is on record as opposed to the legislation. [Editor’s note: For more on Finch’s position, See Page 5 in today’s Herald.]

State Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, on the other hand, backs the bill because he thinks it’s contradictory to the idea of a free market to prohibit certain businesses from selling legal items, he said in a press release.

“Those of us who truly believe in fostering free market principles in Kansas recognize the flawed logic of restricting the sale of legal, adult beverages to one kind of business,” Rubin said. “The Uncork Kansas bill ensures Kansans will finally benefit from the choice, convenience, and economic gains that come with an open market. It certainly has my support.”

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