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. The Kansas House has yet to schedule a hearing on House Bill 2206, but majority leader Rep. Jene Vickrey said hearings are likely to be scheduled soon.
In 2011, the Senate examined a bill that would allow stores like Price Chopper and Walmart to sell liquor, and a similar bill has been introduced in the Commerce Committee this year.
Elliott, owner of K&D Spirits in Gardner, said if it were to become law, the legislation would put him out of business.
“Things are tough as they are right now – let alone add things like that (legislation) to it,” Elliott said.
In a letter to media, Joe Grieshaber, the president of Dillons Stores, said the existing laws allow the government, not consumers, to dictate where liquor is sold.
“Consumers win in an open market. That’s why Kansans favor free market enterprise,” he wrote.
However, a study conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, suggests that Kansas voters do not want wine and spirit sold in grocery and convenience stores. According to the statewide poll released last week, only 29 percent of Kansans support a change in the law. Seventy-eight percent said Kansas should not ease restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
However, proponents of the bill say allowing grocery stores to sell wine and spirits will promote healthy competition and increase revenues to the state.
A study conducted last year suggested that if enacted, approximately 1,000 new jobs would be created in Kansas.
Elliott scoffs at the idea that allowing convenience stores to sell whiskey would add jobs.
“That’s not going to happen,” Elliott said. “The big stores are not going to hire extra people just for that department.
“In fact, it’s going to shut a bunch of us down.”
Elliott estimates that of the 700-odd liquor stores in Kansas, about half would shutter. “It’s literally going to shut us down or put us out of business.”
Rep. Vickrey said that’s one of many concerns he’ll consider when and if the legislation reaches the House floor.
“Fundamentally, is the fact that we have businesses that have made investments in our state under the current law,” Vickrey said. “Is it correct to change the law when many times people have their lives’ investments in the current law?”
Under the proposal, the state would freeze or limit the issuance of new liquor licenses for a period of years.
That would permit Elliott and other liquor store owners to sell their licenses. However, Elliott said though he might be able to sell the license for more than it is worth, it wouldn’t make up the cost of closing the doors to his store.
There are also concerns about underage workers selling liquor in retail stores and gas stations.
Currently, those under the age of 21 are not allowed to transact liquor sales in stores.
Vickrey said he’ll weigh a variety of concerns including those of liquor store owners and larger stores like Dillons and HyVee, which hope to add spirits and wine to their shelves.
Elliott said how legislators vote will affect ballots he casts in the future.
“You vote for that bill, I don’t vote for you,” Elliott said. “And neither will any of my friends.”