Walmart says consumers want alcohol in its Oklahoma stores, and while Norman pack stores say they’re very concerned about market share, they hope their knowledge of the industry and their selection of specialty spirits would keep them afloat if the retailer were successful.
The world’s largest retailer will launch a lobbying campaign this month in coordination with CMA Strategies, an Oklahoma-based consulting and advocacy firm, according to the Journal Record. The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma told the publication that efforts would begin in September with a summit involving liquor wholesalers and lobbyists, but liquor store owners were not invited.
Oklahoma voters passed SQ 792 in November 2016, co-authored by then-state Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, and former Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, allowing grocery stores and convenience stores to sell full-strength wine and beer. The question of state came into effect in October 2018.
Walmart was the majority contributor to “Yes on 792 Inc.” with a donation of nearly $4.9 million, according to Ballotpedia.
Opponents of the measure have argued that it’s only a matter of time before the alcohol push into grocery and convenience stores begins, making the market dominated by big business.
Walmart said in a statement Thursday that after hearing from customers looking for more convenience, they have since launched efforts to adapt.
“Our customers have told us they want more choice and convenience when buying spirits in Oklahoma and we’re interested to see what role we could play in advocating for them on this issue,” said Lauren Willis, director of global communications for Walmart. for the western United States.
Normandy liquor store owners say that when SQ 792 came into effect, the closure of mom and pop stores followed.
From 2015 to 2017, the state had an average of 683 active liquor licenses. In 2018 and 2019, licenses fell to 649 and 617, respectively, according to the Liquor Law Enforcement Commission.
Store owners predict a steeper drop in numbers if Oklahoma voters were to pass legislation allowing alcohol in grocery stores.
Matt Sterr, owner of The Spirit Shop, 109 S. Berry Rd., predicts a tough future for many liquor store owners.
“I would say most liquor stores wouldn’t survive,” Sterr said.
The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma said in a Facebook post that it intends to lobby against Walmart’s efforts, but support from store owners and business partners will be needed.
“They oppose it, but Walmart has 30 lobbyists against ours, so they laid the groundwork for that in 2016,” Sterr said. “The end game has always been to bring booze to Walmart.”
While some point to the easing of marijuana laws in the state as a similar progression, Sterr said it’s a similar, but inverted, slippery slope.
“The marijuana business was kind of a grassroots effort, whereas it’s a top-down effort, basically writing a law to a corporation that will allow it to dominate the market,” Sterr said.
Sterr said all he and his employees could do was continue to focus on selection and service through product knowledge and offerings such as delivery.
Kathy Hallren, owner of Joe’s Wine and Spirits, 1330 E. Alameda St., said the COVID relief money has likely helped some store owners survive, but if the legislation were to loosen the laws further, the state would see a drop in liquor stores of more than 30%.
Hallren said that in the 18 states that allow alcohol to be sold at grocery retailers, most carry only the top brands. Like Sterr, she said one appeal for smaller stores is the drive to offer more options and even collectible whiskeys, though declining sales of popular liquor brands like Smirnoff, Seagrams and Jack Daniels would affect revenue considerably.