By E.I. Hillin
For more than 25 years Harry Weatherford and his family have run the liquor store on the corner of Morgan Road and State Highway 152. He said although the Oklahoma state liquor laws may have seemed outdated, they are unique in the way they promote small, family-owned businesses.
“If you stop and think about it, every liquor store in the state is owned by a small-business owner,” he said.
The most store ownership can be split up is a partnership as opposed to a sole proprietor. Weatheford said someone in their wisdom set aside liquor stores for small business owner, specifically for families.
“In other words, a corporation cannot own a retail liquor store in Oklahoma,” he said.
Under current laws, liquor stores can only be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and families are only allowed one liquor store license. Three State Senate bills being considered by legislators could change liquor store operations.
Senate Bill 211 would allow voters to consider Sunday liquor store hours on a county-to-county basis. The companion measure, SB 411 would allow liquor stores to be open two hours earlier at 8 a.m. and would allow breweries that sell their products or provide samples to serve until 2 a.m. SB 174 would permit spouses of liquor store license holders to also own a license.
The bills are pending consideration in the House. Weatherford said even if the bills pass, it won’t change things much for his business.
“Why would I want my wife to own a liquor store down the street?” he said. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Opening at an earlier time or on Sunday might cause Weatherford to lose money, rather than make a profit. Weatherford’s store doesn’t open until noon and hasn’t since the early days of business. For small-town liquor stores, the pressing matter isn’t from the proposed Senate Bills, but from a different law.
When State Question 792 easily passed in November, making the sale of high-point beer and wine legal in grocery stores, Weatherford knew things were changing.
“Can you smell the Budweiser and Coors coming?” Weatherford said. “The two companies will pick up an entire state they hadn’t had.”
According to Weatherford, in 1977 Budweiser and Coors said their product needed to be delivered to their customer cold by using their own distributors. The state at the time would not allow it. The companies pulled their strong beer out of the state and left 3.2 percent alcohol content beers instead.
Today liquor stores buy from around seven major distributors in the state. Because of that, purchase prices stay the same across the board. Weatherford and other retail liquor store owners fear big beer companies could come in and become distributors when SQ 792 comes into effect in 2018.
“On October 2018 what are the rules of the game going to be?” Weatherford said.