Commentary: Carrie Nation would be proud of Kansas liquor laws

The Kansas City StarMarch 7, 2013 


Mary Sanchez is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.


In 1881, Kansas put into play the first statewide constitutional prohibition of alcohol.

In 1948, Kansas was the last state to end prohibition.

The state still hasn’t caught up to the modern era.

Current Kansas liquor laws amount to a 60-year legislative hijacking of the business of booze.

A person can buy 3.2 beer but nothing stronger in a grocery or convenience store. Liquor stores can sell beer, wine and spirits with more alcohol. But you can’t buy mixers, limes or snacks to accompany the booze in the liquor stores.

The limitations make no sense for consumers. They are hangovers from Kansas’ crazy liquor history. Carrie Nation would be proud.

Problem is, this system has gone on so long that changing it would upend many small liquor stores. The market was never allowed to evolve. Legislation to do just that has been introduced.

On Thursday, hearings with a David vs. Goliath edge will be held before the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee. Expect a packed room.

It’s the small retailers versus chain convenience and big box stores — Wal-Mart, Kroger, Dillons, Hy-Vee, Hen House Market, Price Chopper, QuikTrip and Casey’s General Store.

In fairness to consumers, the status quo needs to go.

If the bill passes, there is no doubt that many independent liquor stores will close. Even if they can reconfigure their inventory and service to compete, many are located too close to the groceries that could begin swiping their clientele.

Under current law, placing a small liquor store near a grocery was a smart real estate move. Get the steak, the hamburger at the grocery. Then step into the liquor store next door for the wine and beer.

But that proximity will be the death of many liquor stores if deregulation occurs. The flip argument is that losses would be offset by employment and wage increases at grocery and convenience stores.

Easing in any change — some kind of compromise — would be more fair than overturning the market. Small stores could have a chance to run out leases and alter business models.

Proponents argue that changing the law will save rural groceries. But towns withering away by population loss aren’t likely to be turned around by selling more beer alone.

This has been a long festering debate. A February poll found 66 percent of voters opposed to making a change, so there isn’t a massive public outcry.

It’s likely many people have just grown accustomed to the backward state of affairs.

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