Kansas Beer Law Under Review – Is More Beer a Good Thing?

Earlier this week, a Kansas Senate committee endorsed a proposal to allow grocery and convenience stores to start selling liquor, wine and full-strength beer by 2017. Debate in the full Senate could start as early as tomorrow.

As a beer lover, I should be raising a mug of celebration to my friends on the other side of State Line, right?

Well, it turns out that the truth is a lot more complicated. The debate offers a classic case of principle meeting reality, and consumers sitting on the sidelines of a battle being fought by lobbyists.

The debate even has an east/west twist. Here to the eastern side of Kansas, in Missouri, you can meander into the mini-mart and walk out with whiskey. Full-strength beer, wine and whiskey can be sold at grocery stores and convenience stores, as well as traditional liquor stores.

On the other side of Kansas, though, is Colorado, arguably the best state in the country for beer lovers (“The Napa Valley of Beer”), but one with restrictions similar to those of Kansas. Grocery store aisles have only 3.2 beers, and if you want to purchase some wine for your marinara sauce, you need to find a real liquor store.

In principle, it’s easiest to see the side of those pushing for selling beer in mini-marts. It encourages competition, it allows those of us who like beer to find it in more places, and it would probably increase the tax revenue to the state. Economic freedom is generally a pretty good idea.

But that’s where reality steps in. In reality, liquor stores are some of the classic mom-and-pop small businesses that stand little chance of surviving when mega-corporations step in. In reality, that laid-back store you visit with the bell that tinkles when you open the door will get squeezed out by a corporate convenience store domiciled in Delaware pushing cardboard boxes of Natty Light along with a taquito, served up by minimum-wage servants while the profits go to international bank accounts. Reality is a lot uglier than theory.

But, let’s be frank here. This is my blog, and my concern about some family business in Salina pales in comparison to what happens to me. As in all issues, the primary question that everyone should be asking themselves is “how does this impact Dan Ryan?”, and that’s a tough one to figure out. I’ll happily trade 50 outlets for Natty Light in my neighborhood for one store that carries Dogfish Head and Pretty Things and all those beers I read about and yearn to taste.

I care about craft beer, not mega-brands, and that’s where things get tough to figure. In Colorado, they’ve been fighting this battle for years, and the craft brewers have lined up on the side of the status quo. Micro-breweries don’t get deals with Quik Trip or 7-11 – they get deals with the mom and pop store that is responsive to the local community. The big grocery store chains and convenience store chains aren’t going to carry their products – especially not the nano-brewery that can only crank out a few hundred barrels a year. Small stores are better for small brewers. Think small.

This analysis has little to do with the Kansas legislature, though. Money talks in republican-dominated Topeka, and the battle between 7-11 and the corner liquor store is not an even one. The bill passed out of committee by a margin of 8-1, and unless a group of neo-prohibitionists steps up to unwittingly help those of us who like great local beers, Kansas will be home to coolers full of Natty Light at the gas station.

Personally, I line up on the side of the craft brewers. In the long run, I think that more employment and more revenue comes from more locally-produced goods and more locally-based retail. I think Kansas ought to reject the “liberalization” of its beer laws, save its small businesses and foster a market for the entrepreneurs with a brew kettle that may be hoping to make a go of it.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

29 Responses to “Kansas Beer Law Under Review – Is More Beer a Good Thing?”

  1. Kcmeesha says:

    By this logic there shouldn’t be any mom&pop stores in missouri and that’s obviously not true. The only people who benefit from the current situation are the store owners on your side of the state line and they are the ones who will suffer the most in the beginning.

  2. The DLC says:

    I’m conflicted about this, as many are. An argument made by the big grocery stores is that the loss of revenue generated by alcohol sales makes it less attractive to move into small and underserved areas. Grocery stores are really the lifeblood of small communities – ask anyone in DeSoto, who lost their store not too long ago. That being said I don’t know whether to believe it, but it is compelling.

  3. Chimpotle says:

    When did the small liquor stores in KS start carrying a ton of craft beer? I probably have 5 liquor stores less than a mile from my house, but I still have to drive to Gomer’s Lenexa, Lukas, Rimann, Tipsy’s or into Missouri to get a decent craft beer not made by Boulevard.

    The only people in trouble are those liquor stores smart enough to open directly next to a grocery store in the past. Nothing works out for everybody.

  4. Muddy Mo says:

    Interesting analysis Dan. If this passes, it would be a good subject for a study to determine if removing regulation resulted in less choice for the Kansas consumer and a net loss to the Kansas economy.

  5. Sam says:

    Why are you putting wine in your marinara sauce?

  6. les says:

    I don’t know, Dan. As Kcmeesha notes, Mo. has its share of small and not so small liquor stores. You’re right about the selection in grocery/convenience stores–few are likely to end up with beers that you or I would seek out; but doesn’t that mean that the liquor store is still able to compete on quality and breadth of selection? And similarly for wine. Now, how much of that sector is mom and pop–another question. Where do Lucas, Gomers, Berbiglia (not that their beer selection is worth much), Royal, etc fall? What seems more likely to hurt liquor stores is sales of brand name liquors, where there’s less to care about in selection. I’m not familiar with the proposal–will lliquor stores get the corresponding break, and be allowed to sell non-liquor items? That would balance things, somewhat.

    Finally, Ks. liquor sales law is a hangover from the prohibition days–remember when Ks. Atty. Gen. tried to prosecute airline passengers drinking in Ks. airspace? (Phil Kline may be an egregious example, but he has plenty of crazy in the history of his office.) “Private clubs?” Despite my lack of empathy for the supporters–but as is getting more obvious by the day, law is just another commodity to be bought and sold–I think I gotta come down on the side of getting rid of the remnants of blue laws, where ever they hang around.

  7. gonemild says:

    Meesha – You’re too extremist in your thinking. Nobody says that ALL mom and pops would go out of business, but it’s true that many would. There are some mom and pops on the MO side, but many more per capita on the Kansas side. And, while you’re correct that MO stores currently benefit from the status quo, you’re wrong that they are the only ones. The aforementioned KS mom and pops clearly benefit.

    Chimpotle – fair point on the lack of product diversity in a lot of KS stores. It’s been a long time since I’ve done much KS beer shopping, mostly because I don’t like giving tax dollars to KS.

    Muddy – I agree – I hope some grad student is choosing this for a thesis. Because, really, everyone is making guesses right now, and, coincidentally, most of their guesses match up to their own self-interest. Apparently, I’m not the only one who applies the “How does this impact me?” test to public policy debates.

    Sam – because I want to.

    Les – Gotta warn you, if you’re agreeing with Meesha, you’re generally on a bad path! But, to answer your question, yes, I do think that liquor stores could sell other stuff, which would be a good thing. As for the existence of better stores in MO, that’s true, but I think that is mostly just because Missouri is a better state than Kansas. Your final argument is compelling, though, and probably enough to justify the change. If it pisses off the “family values” conservatives, it’s probably worth doing.

  8. kcmeesha says:

    where did I get this bad reputation? All I am saying is that you are sitting in a state that has less restrictive laws (doesn’t make it any better though, with your own “family values” conservatives who banned strip clubs) and argue for Kansas to keep its more restrictive laws. These restrictions probably were one of the main reasons this area is getting Trader Joe’s way after Omaha and Des Moines,and only since recently our stores are staying open on Sunday. If you like moms-and-pops so much why don’t you ask your goverment to copy KS laws and see a ton of new little stores open up near your house.
    Personally I don’t care either way, I drink so little that a rarely visit a store, but in general it would be better for KS to keep more sales taxes in KS.

  9. gonemild says:

    Totally kidding, Meesha.

    You might be right – in fact I think you’re almost certainly right – that the change in the law would result in at least a short-term increase in sales tax revenue for Kansas. And that’s probably enough reason to get the Legislature to pass it. I’m personally more interested in the impact on small breweries, which is the second biggest reason why I haven’t been elected to the Kansas Senate.

  10. Anon says:

    Only Kansas would take 6 years to start selling beer in supermarkets. LOL. How hard can it be people.

  11. Billybob says:

    WOW…. Consumer choice or protection of privlaged. As a consumer I say open up the market. Furthermore if it is opened, I will demand that the place I spend dollars with carry a GREAT CRAFT beer selection. Utilize the opportunity to change as an opportunity to grow the craft segement. Make your DAM VOICES heard and call your senate member in KS today!

  12. gonemild says:

    Billybob – I understand your preference for large corporations to take over the market and ship the profits out of Kansas, but your free-market analysis is a bit of a failure. Your ability to demand that merchants carry a great craft beer selection isn’t aided by giving the market to QT and 7-11. In fact, it’s diminished.

  13. les says:

    Dan, I’m not sure Billybob is that wrong. If local/small liquor stores have to compete with QT and 7-11 (and Hy-Vee and Price Chopper, which have local ownership), won’t they have to do it by being more responsive to customers? Knowing that QT and 7-11 will not likely be responsive? I’ll generally go out of my way to shop local; but it the products are the same, convenience ain’t always bad. Mom and pop have been both protected and limited; now they’ll have to succeed by being better.

  14. gonemild says:

    Les – I’m not sure who’s right and who’s wrong – this is all a lot of theoretical guesswork. BUT – if the market works as efficiently as you and Billybob seem to think it does, wouldn’t we have a ton of super-responsive, well-stocked stores already? It’s not like the “protected” stores are free from competition now – both from Missouri and from others of their ilk. Billybob seems to think that if he goes in and demands a wide selection, it will magically appear – I’m saying that it doesn’t, and I have current reality as my evidence.

  15. les says:

    A point that’s not been mentioned, that I’ve seen–you can already buy American love in a canoe* beer at QT etc.; so the biggest change is likely to be wine/liquor. Beer may not be a major driver in any changes that happen.

    *fuckin’ too close to water.

  16. I Travel for Jools says:

    DLC just made me think of something. Analysis after analysis has shown that De Soto can’t support a grocery store, even a mom and pop as evidenced by the only one we had that went bankrupt. However, if they can start selling alcohol, maybe that would help the cause. As it is now, we have to go to the big bad corporate stores in neighboring cities to buy our groceries.

    But, if it were me, I’d open it up to all liquor.

  17. gonemild says:

    Interesting points. That’s what makes some of these policy issues so interesting.

  18. les says:

    Jools, you make a good point. But, I think your priorities may be off; sure, it’s nice if you and your neighbors can buy groceries in your own community. But it’s vital that Dan and I have an extensive craft beer selection, when where and how we need it. I mean, you can hardly argue with that, amirite?

  19. gonemild says:

    As I stated quite clearly in the original piece, “my concern about some family business in Salina pales in comparison to what happens to me. As in all issues, the primary question that everyone should be asking themselves is “how does this impact Dan Ryan?”. Most public policy discussions should start and end there.

  20. I Travel for Jools says:

    haha

  21. Nate X says:

    At its heart, freedom allows consumers to choose whatever they want. If they remove these stupid “keep alcohol away from kansans” regulations and it turns out people don’t want off-the-beaten-path random beers shipped in from micro breweries in OK and CO – so be it! That’s what the demand is so that’s what the marketplace will deliver. If people agree with you and want random beers from CO – then the marketplace will deliver that.

    Your selfish want for beer selection and fear of change is influencing your logic. Either you want freedom or you don’t. You are saying that if freedom doesn’t provide what you want, then you don’t want freedom! Sounds like the anti-smoking crowd. Then you attach this to “mom and pop” stores so it tugs at our heart strings as if those stores exist as you paint them.

    Here’s real world – I live in Spring Hill, Ks. We have two “mom and pop” stores. Do you know what they sell there? Budweiser, Busch, Miller… They have 3 choices of Sam Adams and 3 choices of Boulevard. Where’s the selection you argue exists? Well, laws or no laws Spring Hill’s market wants the basic name-brand beers. So that’s what the market provides. Your entire argument is fundamentally flawed! Just because is locally owned does not deliver the selection of beer of the norman rockwell painting you are dreaming up.

    The “mom and pop” owners of the Spring Hill store are not at their stores. Instead the “incompetent minimum-wage slaves” as you so insultingly call them (I call them my neighbors) watch over the place! Again, your argument isn’t witness in the real world!

    So, where do I find my selection of off-the-wall beers which I love? The gigantic Lucas Liquors stores! This chain of stores is the furthest from your idealistic 1950’s painting. They are the Wal-Mart of liquor stores! There is no bell ringing on a beat-up wooden door with some old kindly man who has owned the store for 50 years. They are manned by the same “wage slaves” the grocery stores and gas stations are. Our neighbors, that’s who!

    This whole article is a myth built on baseless points that don’t stand up to scrutiny but instead appeal to our emotions.

    Not even in the tiny town of Offerlee Kansas is your scenario a reality. There are no liquor stores in Offerlee Kansas! Only a gas station that sells 3.2% beer, thanks to you. And why? Its not because the international bankers control the world! The market doesn’t support a liquor store there. Now you argue to continue to restrict access to beer in small towns. Why? Because of your selfish want of selection which you (unjustly) fear will disappear despite all the evidence against it.

  22. gonemild says:

    Nate – Oh, man, people like you are fun to argue with, because you are calcified in false absolutes. For example – you say “Either you want freedom or you don’t.” That is hilariously misguided. It’s not an either/or, as anyone with real-world experience knows. If you’re talking absolute freedom, that’s not even on the table. How will beer compare to heroin in the open market? What about beer without health regulations? What about beer sold without distributors? Sorry, Nate, but your libertarian logic just doesn’t stand up.

    And, even if your odd fantasy of true economic freedom were on the table, why would you criticize me for selfishness? Isn’t that a big turn-on for libertarians?

  23. Nate X says:

    aside from that single statement which you’ve latched onto i guess you agree with every other point in my statement then. that’s good. debate is over and i win.

  24. Nate X says:

    your selfishness values your access to beer variety over other Kansan’s access to full-strength beer and alcohol in any capacity. that is to say, you think your rights are more important than other people!

    see: Sylvia Kansas, Offerle Kansas, or any other number of small towns in western Kansas which cannot support a liquor store but can support a gas station or a grocery store. why can’t they get full strength beer? because you are afraid that Lucas Liqour is going to go out of business once there is competition? why is the Royal still in business in Missouri, using your logic?

  25. gonemild says:

    Which statement are you talking about? The statement that “Either you want economic freedom or you don’t”? I suppose you see the flaw in your attempted logic there, and have abandoned your absolutism, while acknowledging that the beer market, regardless of this bill, is not and will not be a true free market, for which we should all be thankful. Right?

    Or are you agreeing with me that greed is not good, and the proposition that individuals seeking their own self-interests will result inevitably result in a better and more just society is absolutely false? Because that would be cool if my few words caused you to see that light.

    Either way, it looks like I kicked out the fundamental pillars of your argument, and I don’t see any need to pick through the wreckage for the rest.

    Or, we could both stop posturing (me first) and agree there are flaws in both our arguments. The existence of Lucas, I’ll acknowledge, shows that market forces can create a behemoth selection, and, from my perspective, that’s a good thing. But Lucas may well be a market aberration caused by the border; certainly, Lucas would suffer, and perhaps not exist, if both sides of the state line had the same laws.

    Your flaw is that you made stuff up. In your zeal to attack, you fabricated that I called your neighbors “incompetent”. You even had the gall to put “incompetent minimum-wage slaves” in quotations, as if I had used the term! Why do you need to lie? And, to be perfectly clear, you’re the one calling your neighbors names.

    The fact you would lie so brazenly makes me suspect you’re making stuff up about Spring Hill. You’ve lost your credibility.

    Also, look West instead of East. Colorado micro-brewers wisely point out that QTrip isn’t going to stock obscure name brands, so anything that drives business away from those outlets that do is bad for the craft beer business. Closer to home, look at Doodle Brewing. I haven’t seen Nick’s beer in any Delaware-domiciled, Swiss-owned mini-marts. So far, it’s just the mom-and-pops.

    That’s the truth. You can quote me on that.

  26. Nate X says:

    this is a dumb blog by a no name “Gone Mild”. no one has any credibility here. its the internet, man, it brings anonymity! at most you have my email – so you can see my email provider is the Spring Hill ISP Cebridge that got eaten up by Suddenlink a year or so ago. at least you know i’m from south of Olathe.

    to summarize my points so you don’t have to sift through my stream of consciousness.

    1 – locally-owned liquor stores are not “mom and pop” stores. they are large businesses or small convenience liquor stores. large businesses offer variety, small convenience stores offer easy access to a few high-demand items. the wholesome mom and pop family owned and run corner store disappeared when everyone left the farmland and moved to the suburbs. the farmland towns do not have the population to support grocery stores, butchers, or liquor stores. mom and pop owned and operated stores of any variety are a rarity.

    2 – convenience liquor stores do not offer variety. they are compact and constrained on space. any store i visit in Olathe, Overland Park, Stanley, Spring Hill, Gardner or Paola has limited floor space and won’t buy the small beers i like, like Durango’s Modus Hoperandi, because those products don’t turn over quick enough. these are small demand items. i have asked local liquor stores in Olathe and Stanley to buy this specific beer. they contacted the owner who found the cost and low-rate of turn-over made it unprofitable. i can only find the beers i like at larger liquor stores because they have the floor space. there are inbetween stores, not a corner store and not the giant warehouse, which do offer more variety. they offer New Belgium and Goose Island and the like, but those are larger than the corner convenience liquor stores that would go out of business from Quik Trip selling Budweiser.

    i know that Quik Trip or 7-11 won’t sell the beer i like. these stores will drive the low-selection corner liquor stores out of business. this is because those corner liquor stores are thriving off of Budweiser, Michelob, and PBR. larger niche item stores that offer a large wine selection and a large beer variety have a market outside of the grocery store and 7-11 competition.

    3 – locally-owned liquor stores are not run by “mom and pop”. locally owned and corner liquor stores are run by “minimum-wage servants”. the owners are likely to own several liquor stores around town. they are busy running the business side of the stores, not manning the cash registers or stocking shelves. in smaller convenience liquor stores you recognize the employees and they may know you. but they are still employees, not some quaint “mom and pop griffith” who’ve owned the store for 50 years and can tell you knowledgeably about each of the beer varieties they sell.

    4 – competition does not remove access to variety. competition will close many of the constrained-floor-space convenience liquor stores that don’t offer the variety. Metcalf Liquors and Brown Bag Liquors and Lucas Liquors will live on. as will the liqour store next to Quik Trip in Stanley. and if not? my dollar will not go unspent – i will have access through any number of other liquor stores.

    5 – any level of business sells what people demand. my locally-owned convenience liquor stores in Spring Hill sell Budweiser, Busch, Mickey’s, Natural Light, Rolling Rock, Boulevard, Guinness… all the name brand beers. this is because that is what is profitable and sells in Spring Hill. it will be the same at the gas stations and grocery stores. all of them will offer limited variety because they have limited floor space and stock high demand items over specialty items.

    similarly, if demand at Quik Trip or Hen House was for specialty items they would stock them. they supply what people want. look at all the rare groceries Hen House sells. look at their variety of stupid energy drinks, water, and soda at Quik Trip. if people don’t want anything but Budweiser, that is what will be available. if people want Modus Hoperandi shipped from Durango, then that is what they will stock.

    6 – small towns do not have locally-owned liquor stores. they have a gas station and a co-op. they maybe have a grocery store, but likely not. by keeping this law in place you are making all of western Kansas drive to larger neighboring cities for alcohol. you would actually INCREASE business to locally-owned gas stations in western Kansas by allowing them to sell full-strength alcohol. Offerle and Sylvia Kansas are two cities I visit regularly and neither can support a liqour-only store. they don’t have the population to do so. they do have the population to support a convenience store in their gas station.

    the only argument you have is that you want to keep liquor sales constrained out of the fear that your access to specialty beers MIGHT POSSIBLY IN SOME CASES not be available. you have no supporting evidence from neighboring states, in fact they support my argument. you are basing your argument off of pure speculation and selfish motivation elevating your right (to beer, no less) over the rights of others.

  27. gonemild says:

    Nate – Now you’re insulting me, instead of apologizing for lying. Have you no shame?

    As for me being no-name and anonymous, my name was in the paper this morning attached to this very argument, and my post included my name. I have earned some measure of credibility, having published this blog for many years and never having lied in a single post. You haven’t compiled that kind of record, so I have an edge on that point.

    As for your points, here goes:
    1. If you haven’t been to a small, locally-owned and operated liquor store, that’s your own fault. They’re there. Perhaps you made this up.
    2. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here, but if it is that stores won’t order beer for you when you ask, you should shop around. Or ask nicer. Perhaps you made this up.
    3. You need to shop at different stores. I won’t accuse you of making this up, because I suspect you’ve been shopping in Johnson County, which is notoriously unfriendly.
    4. If people can pick up their Bud Light at HyVee in KS, they won’t shop at Lucas, and Lucas will suffer, perhaps jettisoning its selection. Why mess with a status quo that’s working for us?
    5. You’re wrong about QT stocking what people want. They stock according to what the country wants, not Spring Hill. There’s not enough Modus Hoperandi made to stock all the QTs in the US, so they’ll go with a corporate giant that can meet their needs. The national and global markets crowd out local innovation.
    6. I haven’t been to Offerle or Sylvia, but I really don’t care much about their plight. If they want good beer, they should move to a city rather than waiting for the legislature to deliver full strength beer to their local gas station. They’re not going to get Modus Hoperandi either way. I’d be happy to teach them homebrewing, though.

    In summary – why do you think the craft beer industry in Colorado – a far better beer state than Missouri or Kansas – opposes similar laws? Because massive supermarket and convenience store chains will crowd out more locally-sensitive outlets. That’s the truth.

    And if you’re one of those free-market zealots, at least give up on trying to make me feel bad for looking out for my self-interest.

  28. eddie says:

    I believe since it is America the government should not be able to decide what substances are controlled people need to start taking responsibility for their actions and for their children’s actions if everyone did so their wouldn’t be a problem beer alcohol of any kind sold any were yes there should still be laws on being under the influence out in public and driving

  29. gonemild says:

    I greatly admire your idealism and enthusiasm, but not so much your understanding of human behavior.

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