As Oklahoma prepares for access to stronger alcohol products offered in chain stores, local liquor business owners, like Vance Gregory, are preparing measures including a lawsuit which will help them compete and “save their livelihood.”
Gregory has owned the Edmond Wine Shop for the last 43 years and has had success building up his cutomer base.
“I like to think we have a very good relationship with the community. We’ve had a lot of really steady customers over that length of time,” Gregory said.
At first Edmond Wine Shop was only one of two liquor stores in the city but the amount of stores quickly grew.
“In the immediate area right now there’s probably close to 20 and that has grown a lot in the last 40-some odd years,” Gregory said.
In the last election residents of the State of Oklahoma voted on a law which has granted larger businesses such as grocery stores the ability to sell alcoholic beverages above 3.2 percent.
They will now be permitted to sell items with up to six-percent alcohol — the same types of products commonly sold by Edmond Wine Shop and the other retail liquor stores.
Gregory says this new development will vastly affect the smaller liquor stores.
“It’ll be a big change if it is upheld. We are enjoined in a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of certain portions of it. So if that is upheld then it will have a huge impact on our business,” Gregory said.
Edmond Wine Shop sales associate Amanda Mcneil said she believes the store is well prepared to take on the new challenges the store faces.
“Of course we’re going to lose some of our business but I think we’re prepared for what’s going to happen to it,” Mcneil said.
At the moment Gregory said he is still attempting to adapt his store to the new law and keep his business successful.
“I’m still in the middle of trying to ascertain exactly what to do to compete with that if it does go into effect. I’m doing feasibility studies of trying to expand our current space,” Gregory said.
According to Gregory it is not the issue of larger stores selling high-percentage beer but rather that every retail store with a 3.2 percentage alcohol license can sell it.
“So that means every convenience store, every grocery store, Walgreens, CVS, Dollar General store — pretty much any retail licensee could get a wine license to sell wine ... So it will definitely overnight increase my competition,” Gregory said.
Mcneil said it’s important for local businesses to remain successful because they can offer people detailed knowledge on alcoholic products.
“When you come into a store and you don’t know anything about wine or beer or anything, we have people here who are are specialized in this and can help you,” Mcneil said.
In the upcoming lawsuit of which Gregory is a part with the Retail Liquor Association, Gregory said they are attempting to get the law rewritten.
“We are fighting the wording of how they wrote it. It overwhelmingly passed because I think people are sick of 3.2 beer, and so are we, but the unintended consequence of that I think is the unfair competition we’re going to have to deal with,” Gregory said.
The Edmond business owner said while he might be able to slightly expand his business, he is not confident he can have the same customer flow.
“If the law passes I can have two retail outlets but I am competing against chains on the other side. All the 7-Elevens, all the Walmarts, all those folks can have as many outlets as they please. Their argument is that they’re not allowed to sell spirits which is a fair deal. I disagree,” Gregory said.
At this time the lawsuit is in federal court and although he doesn’t know the outcome, Gregory hopes he will hear a decision soon.
“We’re challenging it on U.S. constitutional equal protection basis … Let’s say we’re successful in challenging this because it was not written in a fair manner as we claim. This issue is not going to go away. We’re going to have to get right back into writing a more fair and equitable law that will still allow for wine and grocery,” Gregory said.