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Considering Changes in OK Liquor Laws

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News, Politics.
October 20, 2011

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A State Senate task force is holding its second meeting later today on the feasibility of putting wine and high point beer in grocery stores.

The procedure has support from Chambers of Commerce and grocery retailers, but liquor store owners say it will drive them out of business.

Early morning shoppers can find all sorts of food at Oklahoma City’s Sunflower Market.

What they can’t get is wine or high point beer because of Oklahoma’s constitution.

Supporters of a constitutional change say having wine and beer in grocery stores will bring more businesses to the state, but Anita Honeycutt doesn’t buy that.

“They talked about liquor by the drink and the lottery and all the stuff how it’s going to help everything. It hasn’t. So just leave it the way it is.”

But, Oklahoma City resident Phillip Washburn wants to see the outdated laws changed to allow him to buy wine or strong beer in the same place he buys groceries.

“They sell 3.2 beer which from what I understand is really not that different from 6-point, so the whole thing is just kind of jumbled. I think it has to do with the history of prohibition.”

Sunflower Market Store Director Brad Carder comes from Oklahoma, but has worked in New Mexico and Texas where grocery stores are allowed to carry wine and strong beer.

Carder says in those places more people have to be hired to take care of the specialized product, but the practice still doesn’t put liquor retailers out of business.

“We would still have the need for liquor stores. We would still have the needs of those, but if somebody had more competition, they could actually apply here and with that experience we could put them on here.”

A couple of hours later, Employees at Edmond Wine Shop on 15th and Boulevard are stocking the shelves.

Customers can pick from over 5,000 wines, and take advantage of the personal service provided by the workers.

The owner, Vance Gregory says any change in the law could force him to reduce his staff or even close his doors permanently as shoppers turn to grocery and convenience stores.

But, he says those stores would probably just pick the top 100 best selling items to put on their shelves.

“Well I think would happen would be that the selection would actually diminish rather than increase, at least that seems to be what Texas saw when a similar law was passed there. And, actually we have more line items available to consumers than Texas has.”

J.P. Richard runs the Cache Road Liquor store in Lawton and also works as President of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma.

He says the biggest complaint about wine sales isn’t about availability in grocery stores.

It’s that parents can’t take their kids into liquor stores.

“Lets say a wife says ‘I can’t take my kids into the store to buy my wine, I can’t leave them in the car. I have to get my husband to do it.’ There are just 100 variations of that same complaint.”

Richard says that’s something lawmakers could fix by statute without changing the constitution.

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce wants to see changes in the state’s liquor laws.

President Roy Williams says 34 other states like Texas allow wine and strong beer in grocery stores and Oklahoma is losing business.

“It is amazing to me to talk to people here in Oklahoma City who are I would call relatively well off, white collar people who do not buy a single bottle of wine in Oklahoma. They go to Texas to buy 100% of their wine.”

The Chamber also supports allowing liquor stores to sell ancillary products like tobacco, mixers and fruit to stay competitive with grocery stores.

Back at Sunflower Market, Oklahoma City’s Dyan Gaines says she doesn’t even think about buying wine while she’s shopping for groceries, but would certainly pick some up if it was located in the store.

“I’d probably shop here more often if I could get everything i needed at the same time. What do you call it one stop shopping. Yeah, I would probably do that.”

A change in the constitution would require a vote of the people, which would be an uphill battle.

A Sooner Poll survey released in August showed 54% of Oklahomans oppose any changes to the liquor laws.

Sooner Poll officials say the biggest oppositions come from conservative Christians who don’t support wider alcohol availability.

Laura Corser of Edmond sympathizes with those who don’t want the laws to change.

“It’s kind of like all the casinos. I never thought I’d see a casino on every corner, but like I say it’s just a personal conviction of mine that I know a lot of people want it to be a convenient thing and I think it’s fairly convenient. There’s a lot of liquor stores.”

Richard says four parts of the constitution would have to change to allow grocery stores to carry wine and strong beer.

After today’s task force, lawmakers will decide whether or not to file legislation that would change the state’s liquor laws in the 2012 legislative session.

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