Oklahomans for Alcohol Law Reform is a grassroots organization attempting to change alcoholic beverage laws that are vestiges of the old "blue laws" system, including allowing liquor retailers to sell on Sundays. Randy Burleson, a founding member of the organization, said OFALR is not pushing for "obligatory regulations."
"We think it's a matter of consumer demand," Burleson said. "We would just like to have the option. I believe retailers would like the option to be open on Super Bowl Sunday, too, or even on Sundays during the football season."
Burleson said the Sunday sales issue is not a big push for the organization right now, but he said the organization favors it because of an article he read in the July 8, 2008, edition of U.S. News & World Report. The story, written by Justin Ewers, cites a 2008 study that reported an increase of more than $200 million in state revenue for states that had recently allowed Sunday sales, while retailers reported increased sales of 5-8 percent for their stores.
"That's money we could use in the state budget," Burleson said. Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, has sponsored legislation this year to allow the sale of refrigerated beer in liquor stores, but the measure failed to make it out of subcommittee.
Rice said he knew of no public policy or public health reasons why the state should not allow Sunday sales.
"I suppose historically they didn't want people drinking on Sunday, but you can always stock up on Saturday," Rice said. "We need to assess if this is an antiquated law that needs to be changed. I'm in favor of opening up all markets so that we can increase state revenue."
A report prepared by the state's Board of Equalization indicated that, according to the state's itemized revenue estimates for 2011, alcoholic beverage taxes and mixed beverage receipt taxes would be two areas where collections are expected to increase. But would Sunday sales really increase sales and tax revenue more than already estimated?
David Lack, owner of Broadway Wine Merchants, said he's "on the fence" about the issue. "I just don't think we're missing sales by not being open on Sundays," Lack said. "I'm not opposed to the option, but I think the Sunday people would be some of the same people we see on Saturday night or Monday morning. As it is now, this is a real day off, a complete day off."
Lack acknowledged that the option to open on Super Bowl Sunday or when big holidays, like New Year's Eve or St. Patrick's Day, fall on Sunday would be nice, as did J.P. Richard, president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma.
"I'm certainly not opposed to it," Richard said. "It might be nice to have that option, but as I talk to our members around the state, I find that they are divided on the issue. Most of them are opposed to opening on Sundays, but there are some in favor."
Richard, who owns a liquor store in Lawton, said he prefers to remain closed on Sundays. "I want a day when I don't have to come down here," he said. "If the store is open, I'm here. Besides, I'm not sure the additional day of sales would cover the overhead and extra labor costs."
Richard said the group is certainly not opposed to changes in the laws that would make sales more "consumer friendly."
"One of the things they could look at is the law that keeps anyone under 21 out of liquor stores," he said. "This is a very inconvenient rule for parents of small children who simply want to stop in on the way home to make a purchase.There is no open alcohol in the store, so I don't understand the law that keeps minors who are accompanied by parents out of the store."
According to Richard, some of the surrounding states did see increases in sales due to Sunday sales, but he said in two of those cases, Kansas and Colorado, there were extenuating circumstances.
"Kansas has refrigeration in package retail stores," Richard said. "Colorado has strong point beer, like Budweiser and Coors, in their package stores. Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller will not ship high-point beer to Oklahoma, and it has nothing to do with shipping or refrigeration. It's simply because Oklahoma will not allow breweries to franchise in the state. All breweries must follow the same system as everyone else, which means they have to make their product available to everyone, not just to their franchises."
OFALR said they want to work with the retailers and within the current system to help bring about reforms.
"We're not trying to reform the whole system," Burleson said. "We just want to have options."
For links to information about OFALR and the full text of the U.S. News & World Report article, visit www.ofalr.com."Greg Horton
photo David Lack, owner of Broadway Wine Merchants, acknowledged being open on Super Bowl Sunday would be nice. photo/Shannon Cornman