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.