It’s been one year since shelves and convenience store beer caves sat empty, the last of 3.2% beer running dry in most cities on the eve of strong beer and wine sales.
The Oklahoma dry spell came on the eve of State Question 792 going into effect. The law allowed the sale of refrigerated full-strength beer as well as wine beyond solely liquor stores, some of which have struggled since the state question passed on the November 2016 ballot.
What has been a boon for retailers and convenience stores has led some liquor stores to cut jobs or shut down altogether. Bryan Kerr, president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, said the decline is varied across the industry, but they remain on pace to one day have half the stores as when the question passed.
In December 2016, immediately after the election, Kerr said there were 682 retail liquor licenses in the state. By July 2018 before the new laws took effect, 650 remained. For the last year, two stores have closed each month, and Kerr said 629 remained as of August.
“I’m sure some of those folks are still to this day looking for ways to eat,” Kerr said. “Because a lot of these people are mom-and-pops where that was their only business and their only income. What we knew was going to happen, it happened to some of those folks.”
Some stores haven’t seen much change thanks to location and a few other factors, but Kerr said the vast majority have either closed, cut back or had to reinvent their business model and compete with convenience stores. Some found themselves trying to court consumers to a one-stop shop with their liquor, snacks and a mixer all in one place, Kerr said.
Kerr said he believes there has been a net job loss in the state because of the law, not only from liquor stores but from local convenience stores that can’t compete with liquor-licensed neighbors.
“You know, obviously Walmart’s not hiring more people to stock shelves of wine,” Kerr said. “So these people that were working liquor stores, it’s a net loss of a job.”
Outside the grim situation for liquor retailers, local breweries and convenience stores have seen benefits in more ways than one.
QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said the company has seen a big return from the changed law. Although QuikTrip sold cold 3.2% beer beforehand, Thornbrugh said the company’s seen good returns thanks to greater variety and wine sales.
“(Grocery and convenience stores) already had a dominant share of the beer sales,” Thornbrugh said. “But it continues to grow today, and obviously we attribute that to the fact we can offer all these various beers that we couldn’t offer before.
“We’re fortunate people have been coming to us for gasoline and other purchases, but they were going somewhere else to buy their strong beer. Now they’re not, they’re sticking with QuikTrip, so it’s been fantastic.”
Thornbrugh said he’s not sure the company has hit its peak on beer sales but it’s met expectations, unlike the high volume of wine sales that took the company off guard.
Another facet of SQ 792 brought good news to local breweries. Wes Alexander, director of sales and marketing at Tulsa’s Marshall Brewing Co., said the run on beer a year ago took the industry by surprise.
“What no one necessarily planned for was that there was going to be this frenetic buying pace from the consumer who was worried about supply,” Alexander said. “So almost immediately, you stock the shelves and within days they’re empty again. That kind of pace continued throughout the fall, so that was an odd thing to go through.”
The clean shelves came with an added bonus: manufacturers could now enter a partnership with distributors in the form of franchise distribution agreements.
Previously, manufacturers had to sell equally to state wholesalers, but Alexander said that kept breweries from having a plan with any one of them. With those restrictions lifted, it let brands like Marshall work with distributors to better market and sell the product.
“For us, 10 years in, that was a huge get really,” Alexander said. “That was the huge thing that came out of 792 for us.”