Poll: Most voters against expanding alcohol sales
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011
1/29/11 at 7:45 AM
Oklahomans are not exactly tipsy over the prospects of wine and strong beer sales in grocery and convenience stores, the latest Oklahoma Poll has found.
Fifty-eight percent of the 520 likely voters surveyed in early January by SoonerPoll.com said they opposed a proposal to make wine and beer with alcohol content in excess of 3.2 percent more readily available.
"It's a bad idea," said poll respondent Jeff Molina of Sapulpa. "It'll make (alcohol) too accessible. I used to work at a grocery store when I was younger, and I know if you have (alcohol) there, it'll be a problem."
The results are encouraging to people like Richard Hartman, owner of Ajax Liquor Emporium, 8125 E. 51st St.
"I have a Food Pyramid across the street, two QuikTrips within a mile, a Shell on the corner, a Walgreen's across the parking lot and a Drug Warehouse a mile away," said Hartman.
If alchohol sales expanded, all of them would probably become competitors.
"Forty percent of my sales are beer and wine," said Hartman. "I anticipate losing most of that. That means liquor prices will have to go up to compensate."
Consumable alcohol was illegal in Oklahoma until 1933, when voters defined 3.2 percent beer as "non-alcoholic."
In 1959 Oklahoma legalized sales of wine, spirits and strong beer in package retail stores. The state adopted liquor by the drink in 1984.
Although several proposals are in the hopper for the upcoming legislative session, the general direction seems to be toward opening up the sales of wine and all beers to essentially all outlets that can now sell 3.2 beer.
That would include not only grocery stores, but convenience stores, drug stores and big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.
Any such change would require a vote of the people.
Proponents of the proposed change say it would bring Oklahoma in line with most other states, which already allow such sales. Many permit the sale of liquor as well.
They also contend it would encourage some national chains such as Trader Joe's and Costco to enter the state.
Opponents say easier access would devastate existing liquor retailers and could lead to increased alcohol abuse and underage drinking.
"I don't expect to ever get back to where I was," Hartman said.
Retail liquor store ownership in Oklahoma is limited to one per person, so most stores are either sidelines or "mom and pop" operations. The stores are not allowed to sell anything except alcohol or to refrigerate their wares.
"I find it interesting that there's all this talk about adding 6,000 more outlets but they won't let me have refrigeration," Hartman said.
Mike Thornbrugh, a spokesman for QuikTrip, said his company favors the change but doesn't see itself becoming a serious threat to liquor stores.
"We'd probably stock some wine, but it's not like we're going to carry a $30 bottle of it," he said.
The biggest difference would have to do with beer. The proposed changes likely would eliminate 3.2 beer in Oklahoma, making so-called "strong beer" more available.
In the Oklahoma Poll, opposition to the switch was particularly strong outside the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed in the non-metro areas opposed expanding alcohol sales.
Overall, respondents agreed the change would be more convenient for shoppers, but a majority said it would also lead to more alcohol abuse and harm locally owned stores.
They did not buy the argument that the change would attract national chain stores.
"To me, that doesn't matter," said Molina. "To me, it's the accessibility that matters. If they put it in grocery stores, the next thing you know they'll put it in McDonald's."
Many, though, seemed ambivalent about the issue.
"It makes it easier for teenagers to get hold of, but if they want it they'll get it, so I don't see anything wrong with it," said Tulsan Patricia Duff.
"It's a concern," she said, "but if they're going to do it, they're going to do it. We'll give them guns to carry on their belts, so give me a break."
"Wine and strong beers are sold in liquor stores and there are plenty of those available," said Bill Brown of Fort Gibson.
Brown opposes sales in grocery stores because they are "family" places. But, he said he's been in states that allow wider sales of wine and strong beer, and "it doesn't make much difference."
"It don't make any difference to me," said William Barnes of Bartlesville. "All I drink is sody pop and milk."
About the poll
SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific telephone survey of 520 likely Oklahoma voters Jan. 3-6. The poll included 263 Democrats, 230 Republicans and 27 independents selected randomly from those who have established a frequent voting pattern.
The margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. The poll is sponsored by the Tulsa World.
Original Print Headline: Wine, beer plan a bit flat
Randy Krehbiel 581-8365
QuikTrip clerk Tommy Hess stocks beer in the cooler of the 15th Street and Denver Avenue store in Tulsa on Thursday. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
Richard Hartman, owner of Ajax Liquor Emporium, is against a measure that would allow wine and strong beer to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World