New Liquor Laws Sweep the Plains

Beer that is both cold and full-strength can now be purchased in Oklahoma at liquor, grocery and convenience stores after updated alcohol laws went into effect on Monday.

“State Question 792 will increase revenue and spur growth for the entire Oklahoma beer industry because it will remove Prohibition-era laws that severely restricted on- and off-premise businesses from being allowed to meet consumer demand and sell cold, strong beer,” said Lisette Barnes, president of the Oklahoma Beer Alliance, before the law change.

Grocery and convenience stores are now able to sell refrigerated beer that is up to 8.99 alcohol by volume along with wine, but are still not permitted to sell liquor. Liquor stores are also able to now refrigerate both wine and beer.

Wine that is sold is also greater than 15 percent alcohol by volume in liquor stores, while grocery and convenience stores are permitted to sell wine that does not exceed 15 percent alcohol per volume.

Liquor stores can also now sell non-alcohol based items such as mixers, wine and beer openers, souvenirs and more, as long as sale of these items do not exceed 20 percent of the monthly sales at the store.

This change went into effect after State Question 792 was passed during the 2016 November election.

While the measure did pass with a majority vote, some within the liquor store industry are concerned that local liquor stores will go out of business from a lack of demand due to grocery and convenience stores taking their business.

Bryan Kerr, president of Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, said their official stance has alway been in favor of modernizing liquor laws as long as it is a fair playing field for those who own local liquor stores.

“Unfortunately, [SQ792] was not [fair to local liquor store owners] and it already passed, so our current stance is, we are going to do what we can to make sure our customers get the best prices and service possible so that [the consumer] doesn’t have a good reason to go to the grocery store or convenience store to buy alcohol,” Kerr said.

Last year in Edmond there was approximately $29 million in sales estimated for beer and wine liquor stores, which increased 1.4 percent over the previous year.

“We don’t [think there will be] much change at all; the distributor level taxes should probably go up because strong beer is going to be more expensive than 3.2 beer,” said Warren Porter, director of Finance for the City of Edmond. “Sales might be about the same. It’s just going to be fewer retailers selling it, and it will be more [grocery and convenience store] sales.”

Kerr said another downside to the law change is that those with addictions will have more of a difficult time due to easier access to the product.

According to a study done in 2016 by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, 326,000 Oklahomans ages 12 and up are dependent on or abuse alcohol and illicit drugs, and 251,000 are dependent on or abuse alcohol. However, only 7.6 percent of Oklahomans in need of alcohol treatment have accessed help.

Over the past month grocery, convenience and liquor stores have been preparing for the change by moving lower alcohol volume beer out of stores and preparing to stock shelves with the new alcohol.

“Walmart stores across Oklahoma have been preparing to sell wine and full-strength beer over the past month,” Walmart said in an official statement. “Oklahoma City metro locations, including those in Edmond, are adding coolers and adjusting shelving for new products, including locally-sourced brands.”

Chad Dill, general manager for Edmond’s Market Beverage Co. said that to prepare for the law change, the shop has switched its focus from wines to liquor and has purchased coolers that will extend 33 feet along with a 12-by-12 walk-in cooler for beer and some wine.

Several new domestic, craft and imported beers will also now be available at liquor stores. Barnes said more than 30 new Anheuser-Busch beer brands are coming into the state, including Breckenridge, Elysian, Golden Road and Karbach, as well as strong versions of current 3.2 beer varieties.

“I think it is a positive change for the consumer,” Dill said. “There’s likely to be some hurdles that we will have to overcome and adapt our business to a different model, but I think things will work out over time.”

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