Proposed bill would expand alcohol sales in grocery stores

Alcohol sales may be expanded, according to a proposed Kansas bill currently being reviewed by a House committee.

House Bill 2206 would expand grocery and convenience stores’ rights to sell alcohol. Currently, grocery and convenience stores are only allowed to sell up to 3.2 percent alcohol beer and wine while retail liquor stores can sell full-strength beer, wine and hard liquor.

Ashleigh Lee/KANSAN A new law might start allowing grocery stores to start selling hard alcohol.

Ashleigh Lee/KANSAN
A new law might start allowing grocery stores to start selling hard alcohol.

“Kansas consumers deserve the choice to decide where to purchase their alcoholic beverages as long as they’re 21 or over,” said Jody Hanson, Uncork Kansas public relations representative. “We don’t feel that that should be dictated by the government. We don’t feel like liquor stores really deserve to be protected by the government.”

Uncork Kansas, the coalition seeking HB 2206 stresses that preventing grocery and convenience stores from selling alcohol goes against the basic tenets of a free market enterprise.

“It’s really big business trying to come in and put their foot down,” said Brenton Bartz, the general manager at Mass Beverage.

The issue, Bartz says, is a question of big versus local business. While liquor stores like Mass Beverage are locally owned, the grocery and convenience stores that Bartz would be competing with  if this bill is approved would be national corporations.

“I don’t just pay my employees who are local people, I also employ local HVAC people, local maintenance people and local accountants,” Bartz said. “I spread money to other local businesses whereas Kroger and Walmart have giant corporations to take care of that.”

The ability to sell liquor, says Hanson, could help struggling, mom-and-pop grocery and convenience stores keep afloat. A grocery store closing in rural Kansas creates a food desert where people have to drive 15 to 20 miles to get fresh food. Furthermore, Hanson argues, larger corporations create jobs by hiring more local employees.

“Regardless of where a company is based or how big it is, if it operates in Kansas, these companies have to pay all types of taxes to the state — real estate taxes, payroll taxes, personal property taxes — and the bigger the company, the more these taxes are paid,” Hanson said.

Bartz is concerned that an 18-year-old checkout clerk at a convenience store at 2 a.m. will not be as diligent at preventing underage purchase of alcohol as his employees. All Mass Beverage employees must be at least 21-years-old and are specially trained to identify customers.

Regulating restricted products, Hanson said, isn’t a new challenge that grocery and convenience stores would have to negotiate, since they already sell 3.2 percent beer, wine coolers, cigarettes, tobacco products and pharmaceuticals.

“They already have the knowledge, infrastructure, training and technology to regulate restricted products so it’s not going to be a big jump for them to take on the beer and the wine because they’re already doing it successfully,” Hanson said.

In order to survive with Walmart and other grocery and convenience stores as competitors, Bartz said that Mass Beverage would have to rework its business model. After a transitional period, the liquor store would adapt into a specialty store, allowed to sell corkscrews, mixers, cups and ice.

While amendments to the bill are currently being reviewed and introduced, if approved by the House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development, House Bill 2206 could be voted on by the full House next week.

Emily is a sophomore studying English from Kansas City, Kan. Read more from .

  • Updated Mar. 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm
  • Edited by Elise Reuter