How Oklahoma’s Liquor Law Changes Affect You

This lady of old has turned her lovers into both criminals and capitalists and caused many from church leaders to lawmakers attempt to drown her out, dry her up and lock her way. And though often successful for a while in keeping this intoxicating lady of taste under the table, her stirring appeal continues to flow through the ages unscathed and finding her beautiful form firmly held into the hands of those who hold the tap to her freedom. In October of this year, a new age in Oklahoma will emerge as the spirit of alcohol enters into a new frontier.

In November of 2016 voters poured into the voting booths to voice their opinions on what they consider to be antiquated liquor laws in Oklahoma. The public passed State Question 792 and years of oppressed opinions were finally heard. Those changes outlined in SQ 792 go into effect on October 1. So what does this mean for you? For the alcohol enthusiasts, one might say the glass is half full now with the new opportunities to purchase higher contents brews at thousands of more locations soon to be readily available.

There are three major areas of the alcohol industry in Oklahoma that are affected by these new changes beginning with the distributors then liquor stores and lastly the grocery stores. Without delving too much into the legal specifics of the changes, we spoke with three of those who are directly affected by these changes and what they are doing to implement the new laws in their businesses. Welcome to Oklahoma Liquor Laws 101.

DISTRIBUTORS

The most important change for distributors is that each of the three major distributors in the state is no longer allowed to sell all brands of alcohol. The previous laws allowed each of the distributors, Jarboe Sales in Tulsa, Boardwalk Distribution in Tulsa and Central Liquor in Oklahoma City to sell any available brand of beer or spirits to any liquor store within the state.

“It was a fair system that made it easier for liquor stores to purchase alcohol from the distributor of their choice,” owner of Boardwalk Distribution, Bryan Hendershot said

“There was no reason to change the distribution model,” Hendershot said. He explained that business politics played a role in promoting the particular change to distributors. He went on to say that what people were voting on was to get stronger beer and for its availability in grocery stores. But there were so many small changes that were behind the scenes the public was unaware of which affected the infrastructure and “were really only to benefit a couple of other people.”

In effect, it forced the national wholesalers to provide to only one distributor in the state. Those national wholesalers are likely going to use the company with whom they have had the longest relationships. Basically, products such as Jack Daniels or Tito’s will continue to have the same demand, but only one state distributor will benefit instead of all. As a result, Boardwalk Distribution will become the company that will grow brands throughout the state.

“We are the ones that represent brands that are new and trendy, regional and localized and we don’t let our portfolio be run by the big brands.  We serve a purpose to bring variety to the market, we represent the new up and comers and support the local guys,” Hendershot said.

Hendershot also said the other behind the scenes change was the addition of the legal option for those national wholesalers supplying to the states to now purchase percentages in Oklahoma distribution companies. Immediately following the passing of SQ 792, the two largest national wholesalers in the US purchased 49 percent of either Jarboe Sales or Central Liquor, Hendershot said.

On the plus side for consumers, now that distributors align with brands, it allows for the influx of new and lesser-known brands to be purchased and made available to consumers. As Hendershot explained, those brands that Boardwalk is no longer allowed to sell must be replaced. This allows for new products to be available to consumers.

LIQUOR STORES

The major change for liquor stores as it pertains to consumers is, of course, the option to sell beer, wine and mixing beverages cold. Also, liquor stores will be able to sell accessories such as club soda, tonic water, corkscrews, mixers, gift items and gift baskets. Also, the store will now offer lottery tickets which liquor stores were excluded from before the new law.

“Now we will be able to have items cold for our consumers and also have gift and party accessories available to our customers in store,” Tina Parkhill, owner of Parkhill’s South Liquor & Wines said. Previously owners had to create a different legal entity in which they could sell accessories and party supplies. Those entities had legal restrictions as well such as separate entrances than the liquor store, tinted windows and adjacency to liquor store restrictions among others.

One competing factor that will be lost is that liquor stores will no longer be the only places where single strength beer (Above 3.2% alcohol) will be available. To level the playing field, legislators have allowed exclusivity of spirits to remain only with liquor stores. In other words, your local grocery store will not carry Jack Daniels, Crown Royal or any other spirits, but will carry single strength beers and wines. Parkhill pointed out that 3.2 percent beer is gone. So the staples such as Budweiser, Coors, and Miller, will begin selling higher content after October 1.

With the new competition, Parkhill expects that there might be a reduction of volume in certain categories of wine and beer at her location. However, her store will continue to carry a large variety of wines and beers for her consumers to choose from. In addition, Parkhill said that her store will continue focusing on consumer education and guidance from her experienced staff (Sommeliers and certified spirits specialists) to help them with their wine, beer and spirit selections. This allows her store to provide a comprehensive shopping experience for all party planning or beverage needs that may not be available at convenience and grocery store outlets.

GROCERY STORES

The most historical aspect of these new law changes is that grocery stores will finally be able to carry wines and single strength beer. Most have probably had the experience of preparing a romantic dinner for someone. There is stopping off at the grocery store for meal ingredients, the liquor store for wine or champagne and then the accessory store for a corkscrew. Such a hassle! The new law changes now allow for a one-stop shop to prepare that romantic dinner.

“These new law changes are going to allow us to do some things the customers have wanted for a long, long time, CEO of Reasor’s Grocery chain, Jeff Reasor said. He explained to meet their needs, Reasors has been working on new setups for the wine and beer and its adjacency to the meats and cheeses within the store. He added that logistics has been the main issue for grocery stores, regarding making room for the newly available products and working with the distributors. One such logistical issue has been that the state has gone from a few hundred liquor stores to several thousand. This has been a challenge for distributors, but solutions are being worked out every day to meet the needs of the influx of new clients.

Behind the scenes, Reasor’s and other grocery stores have been working on setting up racks and displays to house the wines and influx of beers which will be available after the law goes into effect. This point in the implementation process is difficult, Reasor explained. Since the option for wines and beers is so vast, it will be difficult for grocery stores to know what consumers want. He added that initially, it will be chaotic for everyone. But as the consumers begin buying, giving grocery and convenience store owners an idea of what is selling, things will begin to operate more smoothly. Five of Reasor’s stores will employ wine stewards to help educate consumers about wines, Reasor said.

FINAL BUZZ

As October 1 approaches, there are many behind the scenes activities which are in play to bring about what voters have been thirsting to taste…stronger beer and easier availability. With the onset of this date are many aspects to this law change that will bring about changes to commerce and consumers. But it’s not those changes or whether it is in a grocery store, liquor store or over a romantic dinner where we find our desire, but the realization that a beautiful spirit has finally found her way from an antiquated past to the new frontier in Oklahoma. Cheers!