EDITORIAL | Beer compromise not so ‘grand’

By The Mercury

Advocates of selling 6-percent beer in Kansas grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores finally won a key legislative victory, with first the House of Representatives and then the Senate approving the measure last week.

But legislative supporters and the businesses behind Uncork Kansas ought to know better than to credit passage to what one legislator called a “grand compromise.” If Gov. Sam Brownback signs the bill, it will do more for the bottom lines of Dillons, Hy-Vee, Casey’s and Quicktrip — leaders of the Uncork Kansas movement — than it will for most of Kansas’ 700-plus independent liquor stores, many of them mom-and-pop operations.

There was indeed something of a compromise in this bill, but it involved fewer than one-third of the independent liquor stores. To offset the almost certain loss of sales of 6 percent beer, independent liquor stores would be able to sell other merchandise as long as those sales don’t exceed 20 percent of total sales. Liquor stores also would be able to sell cigarettes and lottery tickets and exclude those sales from the 20 percent sales cap. Still, the concessions seem modest compared to what the liquor stores are losing.

To the extent that independent liquor retailers can claim victory, it is in the fact that the legislation does not allow grocery stores and the other businesses to sell wine or hard liquor. When that change will come is an open question, but sales of 6-percent beer is probably just the first domino.

If it isn’t already apparent, our sentiment on this issue is with the independent liquor stores, though not out of any grievance with grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores. They all serve their communities well. They also seem to be thriving without stocking 6 percent beer. The argument that they have the good of their customers in mind is insulting. Dillons or Hy-Vee customers haven’t suffered from having to go to a liquor store to buy 6 percent beer.

In Manhattan at least, liquor stores are likely to be within walking distance — often sharing the same parking lot — as a big grocery or convenience store. Stopping at a liquor store while doing other shopping is hardly burdensome.

Independent liquor stores are small businesses, and it’s hard to find an American politician who will dare attack small business. But passing a law that will cut into the profits of these small businesses to bolster the profits of bigger businesses doesn’t sound like progress.

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