If State Question 792 passes in November, many Oklahoma business leaders will be raising a glass in celebration.
SQ 792 would modernize the state’s liquor laws, which have drawn bipartisan criticism for years from anyone who has ever wanted a big bottle of strong, brown booze on a Sunday or a bottle of wine to pair with the groceries they’re buying from a local retailer.
“We have a great opportunity,” said Jeff Reasor, president and CEO of Reasor’s grocery stores. “It’s an opportunity to correct something that is archaic and arcane.”
Reasor led the pro-SQ 792 kickoff press conference Wednesday morning at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. Reasor, Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce CEO Roy Williams, Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-Yukon) and two other speakers promoted the reasons they support what could be a historic alcohol modernization vote in November.
“We need your support from Idabel to Guymon,” said Reasor, whose employee-owned stores mostly run from Sand Springs to Tahlequah. “Right now, the wind is blowing in our favor. It’s really a choice issue. Let the customer choose.”
While Reasor and others spoke, hundreds of other people stood and watched or milled around the convention hall behind him. The SQ 792 press event coincided with the Oklahoma Super Trade Show, which features vendors promoting everything from fruit to tobacco to commercial-mopping solutions.
“I’m in favor,” said Ross Hutson, a Duncan resident who was working a booth for his company Wednesday. “I think the major convenience store chains will get on board. The only real grocery store in town is Wal-Mart, and they’ve been pushing this.”
Hutson and a half-dozen other show vendors said they weren’t particularly familiar with SQ 792’s details, but most knew it had something to do with alcohol.
The Yes on SQ 792 campaign’s event intended to educate the public, although the provided press packet only noted that “passage would allow the sale of wine and regular, cold beer in grocery and convenience stores across Oklahoma.”
What SQ 792 will do
In reality, SQ 792 will do a little more than that, with language allowing liquor stores to sell products other than alcohol in limited amounts, such as limes, corkscrews and other items.
The state question will also allow authorized state lodges to sell alcohol on premises for consumption. Reasor also noted that liquor stores would have the option of whether to open on Sundays (though that would only happen if the Legislature chooses to allow it under SQ 792’s direction).
Pam Jackson, of Broken Bow, also noted how the wineries in her region of the state are looking forward to being able to ship directly to customers in places like Oklahoma City.
“Girls Gone Wine is very popular, they’re world-known,” Jackson said. “Dallas they can ship to, but we can’t ship to Oklahoma City. So they have to drive four hours just to get their wine.”
Jackson said the economy is doing well in her neck of the woods, pointing to a new distillery being built in Hochatown, a community in McCurtain County north of Broken Bow for which the U.S. Census doesn’t even estimate a population. The community is already home to Beaver’s Bend Brewery.
“I think everybody from McCurtain County is for it,” Jackson said, adding that she hasn’t heard from anyone who opposes SQ 792.
The Oklahoma Grape Council is also in favor of SQ 792, as are 7-Eleven Stores, OnCue and more than two dozen other organizations and companies.
The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma would appear to be SQ 792’s biggest adversary. The association is attempting to collect signatures for its own state question, and it has filed suit to attempt a blockage of SQ 792 from the November ballot.
The organization has stated that it believes the measure is “unconstitutional” on grounds of equal-protection considerations, and it has posted regularly on Facebook about its concerns.
“Grocery stores in Tennessee started selling wine on July 1. It’s only July 23rd and many Tennessee package stores are already seeing a 25-30% drop in sales,” wrote the RLA of Oklahoma in a July 23 post regarding a story out of Knoxville. “That money is flowing out of the local economies and into the coffers of companies located in other states like Arkansas, Washington and California.”
Reasor doesn’t believe that argument holds weight when compared to the opportunity for consumer choice.
“I think there is a little Chicken Little attitude,” Reasor said during the press conference. “Things don’t get bad overnight. They don’t get good overnight. It’s competition, and that’s what’s going to happen. All we are asking for is a level playing field.”
Reasor also expressed skepticism about whether SQ 792 would make alcohol more available to underage drinkers, as some state mental health leaders have feared.
“When I was in high school, it was easy enough to pull up to a liquor store and get somebody to go in and buy something for you,” Reasor said prior to the press conference. “We are one-strike-and-you’re-out company. That person will be terminated.”
(Correction: This story originally misstated changes to Oklahoma law intended to allow breweries to sell beer in their tasting rooms. That change was included in SB 424 last session, which will go into effect Aug. 25. The post was also updated to clarify that the Legislature would get to choose whether liquor stores could open on Sunday if SQ 792 passes.)