Meet Joe. Joe is a wine enthusiast. He reads books on wine, understands wine and can name the best 10 wines of every varietal and every region. If you have a wine question, you ask Joe. It's Joe's dream to open up a little wine store, only selling quality wines and not bothering with liquor and beer which he knows very little about.
Meet Rick. Rick is like you and me. He loves beer. He knows every beer that's worth knowing. He loves to talk about beer and try new beers. His dream is to open up a little shop selling beers of the quality he chooses and not bothering with Budweiser and Coors. He doesn't know much about wine or liquor and he'd rather not have to deal with selling either.
Meet Ryan. Ryan loves cocktails. He knows all the best gins, vodkas and bourbons and knows how to mix them to really bring out the flavors of each ingredient. He has no use for the Bacardi's and Jack Daniel's of the liquor world, he likes craft distilleries making specialty spirits. He doesn't know much about beer or wine. Ryan's dream is to open a little mix shop selling liquors, bitters and juices for the ultimate cocktailer.
Ryan, Rick and Joe just happen to meet at a little party and tell each other about their dream shop. They don't really know each other so they don't want to go into business together, but they know a little strip mall on Troost near the Plaza that's virtually empty. There's a little neighborhood liquor store just down the street, but it really wouldn't be a competitor to any of their dream shops. They think it would be a great idea to have their 3 storefronts right next to each other creating a little shopping center for quality drinks.
Rick decides to do a little research and finds Kansas City's Statute 10-211 that doesn't allow more than one package liquor license for every 1500 people within a certain radius. Since a store already exists within that radius, they would only be able to get maybe one more license. Ryan, Rick and Joe aren't that politically savvy, they see a law and see something that prevents them from doing what they want. So they start looking around town for other locations that would fit in the ordinance. They can't find any. Their stores never open.
Okay, fictional story over. I'm not saying this story is true or even probable. But, it is imaginable. The reason we don't see specialty liquor stores like the ones described in the little story is because a liquor license is incredibly difficult to get and somewhat expensive. Once you have one, you want to sell as much stuff as you can. This is the main reason we don't see the kind of specialty liquor stores described in the story above.
But, silly little ordinances like 10-211 don't help matters any. I spoke with the manager of Regulated Industries for Kansas City, Gary Majors, about the ordinance last week. He's in charge of regulating and issuing liquor licenses for the city. I tried to contact Councilwoman Cathy Jolly and Councilman John Sharp to get their reasons why they didn't advocate for the repeal of 10-211. Cathy Jolly's office gave Mr. Majors my number which was 1000% better than Mr. Sharp's office which ignored my request for information. Apparently Mr. Sharp is only interested in questions that honor him for getting Trader Joe's an exemption for 10-211 (UPDATE: Mr. Sharp has responded, I put his emailed response in the comments below). Both Sharp and Jolly were sponsors of the Trader Joe's exemption.
Mr. Majors and I had a very good and spirited 20 minute conversation about 10-211. I made similar points to the ones I made in my previous post. But, my main point was the ordinance was unnecessary because prospective liquor licensees don't typically try to open stores that are already well served by other liquor licensees. Majors told me that they have rejected several licenses in the past year based on 10-211 and there is a dedicated bunch of Kansas Citians that are against any openings of licensees even well respected licensees like QuikTrip. QuikTrip was the last store before Trader Joe's to get an exemption and several city council members are already regretting the exemption, not because of QuikTrip, but because the exemption has to be given for a certain area. The QuikTrip exemption has led to a couple of other prospective package liquor licensees to be granted licenses.
To his credit, Majors said that his division tried its best to work with prospective licensees to get them licensed even giving me a real inside baseball story on the Trader Joe's licensing. I don't know if what he told me was true or not, but Majors seemed quite reasonable about my position and the position of his office. Unfortunately, he is just an administrator and couldn't tell me the reason why Jolly and Sharp didn't advocate for repeal of the ordinance. It's not his job and I didn't expect it.
I acknowledge there is a group of people in town that like this ordinance and feel very strongly about it. They don't want more liquor stores or bars in town. They're entitled to their opinion and I wouldn't want to exclude them from getting their fair say in the matter. But, their fair say shouldn't be a hurdle for Joe, Rick and Ryan. Joe, Rick and Ryan are the ones taking the risk, doing the work and employing people. The opponents of liquor stores do none of that. Their rights should be to petition the council to stop a licensing, not stand in the way of every license pro forma. The ordinance is exactly backwards.
Repealing this ordinance will not result in more liquor stores in town. What it will do is open up liquor stores to competition increasing the quality of stores in town. Rick, Ryan and Joe's liquor stores might drive out a garden variety all purpose neighborhood store that doesn't serve many needs well. The ordinance as is protects these little liquor stores. I don't think they should go out of business, but if they don't serve their customers well, there's no reason for them to be protected from competition.
I don't see why this should be a controversial issue. Everyone's rights and concerns can still be addressed but Joe, Rick and Ryan can have an easier path to securing their liquor licenses for stores that I don't think anyone but the staunchest alcohol prohibitionist would object to. We all joke about how liquor laws in Kansas and Missouri are pretty stupid. Repealing this ordinance won't change that, but it needs to start somewhere. Repealing this ordinance is a fine start.