Saturday, October 2, 2004

Sunday liquor ban crumbling

Municipalities appear likely to fall in line

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

Sunday's "day of rest'' for package liquor sales may soon go the way of Prohibition in much of the region.

Fort Mitchell City Council will consider a proposal Monday to allow sales of package liquor, including distilled spirits and wine by the bottle, after 1 p.m. on Sundays. If enough people favor the change, council will vote on it Oct. 18.

Elsewhere in Northern Kentucky, retailers in Bellevue and Independence have sold package liquor on Sundays for several weeks, after local officials voted to ease restrictions on Sunday sales. Leaders of other towns say they are monitoring the impact in those communities and may consider similar legislation.

In the last 21/2 years, 11 states, including Kentucky and Ohio, have repealed decades-old "blue laws'' banning Sunday liquor sales, in response to a changing economy, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the liquor industry's lobbying arm.

"In the modern economy, people are spending their Saturdays at baseball and soccer games, so a lot of people end up doing their shopping on Sundays,'' said David Ozgo, chief economist for the Distilled Spirits Council. "It's the second-busiest shopping day of the week. If you can't buy a product on Sundays, particularly a discretionary product like distilled spirits, there's a chance you're not going to buy it at all.''

Two years ago, The Party Source in Bellevue, a liquor mega-store, tested Kentucky's law banning Sunday sales of package liquor by deliberately selling a bottle of Jim Beam to an Alcoholic Beverage Control agent on a Sunday, kicking off a court challenge. A state appeals court ruling overturned Kentucky's ban on Sunday liquor sales on July 30. The state chose not to appeal to the state Supreme Court, effectively letting local governments decide whether to allow Sunday liquor sales.

The Party Source became the first store in Kentucky - as well as Greater Cincinnati - to sell package liquor on Sundays on Sept. 12, less than a week after Bellevue City Council okayed the change. Three other Bellevue retail outlets - Kroger's, Smokes & Spirits and One Stop Liquors - soon followed suit, said City Administrator Don Martin.

So far, Martin has heard from eight to 10 residents and business owners praising the change. "I've not had any negative comments whatsoever,'' he said.

Art Wulfeck, a spokesman for the Kroger Co., said it's too early to tell what kind of impact Sunday liquor sales have had at the Bellevue Kroger's. He said the grocer is not taking a stand on Sunday liquor sales but is instead leaving it up to local governments to decide.

Beechgrove Liquors in Independence started Sunday package liquor sales on Sept. 19. Independence City Council already had year-old legislation on the books allowing Sunday sales of package liquor but couldn't enforce it until the July 30 Kentucky Court of Appeals ruling.

"As soon as I heard about The Party Source winning their court case, I called the city the next day,'' said Patrick Foltz, owner of Beechgrove Liquors. "When I found out it was legal, I started package liquor sales (two weeks ago.) Now it's just a matter of getting the word out. I put a sign up last Sunday that said, 'Yes, we're selling liquor on Sundays,' because a lot of my customers still didn't know.''

Fort Mitchell has two package liquor license holders - Kroger's grocery and Jim's Beverage Station - said City Administrator Bill Goetz.

"It's more of a convenience issue than anything,'' Goetz said. "A lot of people entertain on Sundays. If they run out of liquor, it would be available in the city (seven days a week).''

On Sept. 19, Ohio became the 32nd state to start Sunday package liquor sales, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. Before that, consumers in the Buckeye state could buy only beer and wine on Sundays.

At least five states that recently lifted bans on Sunday sales found that more liquor was being sold, as opposed to spreading sales from six days to seven, Ozgo said. In Oregon, state controlled-liquor stores that opened on Sundays saw a growth rate of 14 percent to 15 percent, versus 4 percent for the stores that were closed on Sundays, he said.

Cash-strapped states also benefit from Sunday liquor sales through increased tax revenues, Ozgo said.

"Things have changed a lot since the Prohibition era,'' said Lisa Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Distilled Spirits Council. "Nowadays you have two people working during the week, and the weekend is spent doing the errands and grocery shopping. States are realizing this and they're trying to modernize their marketplaces to bring consumers more convenience.''



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