Oklahoma’s sweeping alcohol law changes went into effect Monday. Grocery and convenience stores can now sell cold full strength beer and wine, and liquor stores can stay open later and sell non-alcoholic products like limes and corkscrews.
But some entities are not yet on tap. Journal Record reporter Molly Flemings spoke with KGOU about the alcohol law changes, and why some municipal golf courses may have to change their alcohol policies.
Jacob McCleland: You're listening to the Business Intelligence Repor,t a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Jacob McCleland. Today's guest is Molly Fleming. She's a reporter at The Journal Record newspaper. Molly, thank you for joining us.
Molly Fleming: Hey thanks for having me.
McCleland: So Oklahoma's new liquor laws went into effect on Monday. First Molly, for those who haven't been keeping up with this, Oklahoma voters passed a ballot measure in 2016 that changes Oklahoma's alcohol laws and it brings the state more in line with other states, like allowing strong beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores. Beer and wine can also be refrigerated. What else is new in these laws?
Fleming: Liquor stores can now sell non alcohol items such as sodas ice and limes. This was probably one of the first things that caught my attention when I went to Byrons on Monday. There are cold sodas in one of the coolers. Another change is that bars can offer actual happy hours. They can have this kind of drinks and snacks in, you know, the late afternoon or early evening. A person who owns a liquor store can actually own another liquor store which wasn't allowed previously. And people who were convict of a nonviolent felony from at least five years ago can get a license to sell alcohol either at a bar or at a retailer. And there's a lot more. I mean there was a huge stack of the stack the bill itself was quite long and lengthy. But those are just some of the highlights.
McCleland: Yeah it's it's an enormous bill. So big box retailers, grocery and convenience stores have the opportunity now to sell a product that they bought they couldn't sell before. What are liquor stores doing to stay competitive now?
Fleming: Liquor stores can stay open later and offer more products than previously. These non-alcohol items can't total more than 20 percent of their sales though. So the quantity of those items won't be extensive. You won't see rows and rows of of non-alcohol items. This provision is designed to make sure that liquor store stay liquor stores and grocery store stay grocery stores. There was some disdain though from the liquor store owners about the grocery stores not having a similar provision on how much beer or wine they can sell. They wanted beer and wine sales to be 20 percent versus for sales. But that frustration didn't seem to get anywhere. I think we'll see liquor stores fight for more rights, such as allowing children in stores. There was a bill about that last year and it didn't get very far. Liquor stores can stay open later though as part of the new laws. But some owners I've talked to aren't fond of this idea and likely will only stay open until 10 p.m. I've had one owner tell me nothing good happens after 10:00. Liquor stores can also sell beer that's higher than 8.9 Percent alcohol by volume and wine that's more than 15 percent alcohol by volume.
McCleland: And liquor stores remain the only place that customers can buy spirits even with the implementation of this new law. So now local breweries can put their product on more shelves throughout the state. What are Oklahoma beer producers doing to adapt to these changes?
Fleming: Some of them are opening new breweries says John Elkins with Elk Valley Brewing Company. He is brewing at the brewers union on North Meridian right now but by November he expects to be in his new place in Midtown. Tap rooms will be able to welcome people of all ages. They'll also be staying open later which should allow tap rooms to be hotspots for watching ballgames.
McCleland: So all of these changes seem to cover most of the of the alcohol scene it seems. Were any entities left out and concerned about how they'll operate?
Fleming: Yes. Municipal golf courses have felt left out of the changes. Municipalities can't get liquor licenses and since the new beer is considered alcohol golf courses need full alcohol licenses. Previously they saw a low point beer so they didn't need a liquor license. The challenge at golf courses is they were operating as two different types of licensees. With low point beer, they could sell multiple beers so golfer like a retailer and then the golfer could drink it on premise like a restaurant. The new laws don't have such a provision so the golf courses can only sell two opened beers at a time, which is how restaurants operate. City-operated golf courses across the state are really worried about this and there will likely be an attempt at a fix for this in the 2019 legislative session. Since it's operated by a public trust and not the municipality itself, Oklahoma City is considering rezoning four of its courses to allow liquor sales so golfers can enjoy a Bloody Mary on the course.
McCleland: Molly Fleming is a reporter for The Journal Record newspaper. Thank you so much Molly for talking with us. Cheers.
Fleming: Hey cheers. Thank you.
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