When Dennis Elliott, Gardner, purchased K&D Liquor Store five years ago, he knew there were whispers that Kansas laws might be changed to allow grocery and other retail stores to sell liquor.
The whispers are growing louder and legislation to do just that appears to be finding traction in the Kansas Legislature.
Last year, the Senate examined a bill that would allow stores like Price Chopper and Walmart to sell liquor. This year, a House committee held two hearings on similar legislation.
The proposed law would create new classes of liquor licenses – one that would allow retailers to sell just beer, another to allow them to sell beer and wine and a third that would allow beer, wine and liquor to be sold in retail stores after 2016.
That, Elliott says, might put him out of business.
“It would put something like 700-and-some odd small, mom and pop liquor stores out of business,” Elliott said.
Proponents of the legislation say in addition to allowing retail stores like Walmart to sell liquor would also allow existing liquor stores to expand their offerings. Instead of selling just liquor, the stores could also stock mixers, snacks and just about anything else.
“That wouldn’t help us at all,” Elliott said.
Most liquor stores don’t have space available to stock additional items.
“In most of these small stores, their space is at a premium. We use every little nook and cranny for what we have,” Elliot said.
Dick Stoffer, a lobbyist for Hy-Vee grocery stores and advocate of the legislation, believes the bill would also add jobs.
“Our study last year said there would be about 15,000 new jobs that would come in the form of more businesses being attracted to come to Kansas,” Stoffer said.
Elliot estimates the proposal would cost as many as 4,900 jobs.
“If just 700 small (liquor) stores went out of business, and each place employs between seven and nine people, take that times 700, and that’s how many jobs are going to be lost,” Elliot said.
HyVee operates stores in eight states. Its Kansas stores are the only ones that don’t offer liquor sales. The retail grocery chain is growing in other states, but not in Kansas.
“I don’t know any specifics,” Stoffer said. “I have been told we’re not putting any new (Kansas) stores until this bill passes.”
Large chains would be the biggest benefactors of the proposed legislation, Elliot said, and their profits don’t stay in state.
“It won’t help the state,” he See said.
Competition is good for consumers, Stoffer said, but the liquor store owners don’t want to compete.
“That’s what it comes down to,” he said. “We compete with everyone everyday. To be protected really isn’t a good thing for consumers or Kansas.”