Appeals ruling likely not final word on liquor sales in grocerie - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Appeals ruling likely not final word on liquor sales in groceries

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A federal appeals court ruling may not mean last call in the battle over who can sell packaged wine and liquor in the Commonwealth. A federal appeals court ruling may not mean last call in the battle over who can sell packaged wine and liquor in the Commonwealth.
Dave Maxwell Dave Maxwell

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A federal appeals court ruling may not mean last call in the battle over who can sell packaged wine and liquor in the Commonwealth.

That ruling re-instates Kentucky's laws, passed after the repealf of Prohibition, that allow grocers, gas stations and convenience stores to sell only beer, not wine or hard spirits.

Six-packs might account for less than 10 percent of sales at Dave Maxwell's three Pic-Pac supermarkets in Metro Louisville. But he's sure it has been worth the fight to sell wine and liquor along with it, even though its meant serving as a lead plaintiff, along with the Kentucky Grocers Association, in asking federal court's to overturn the Commonwealth's hard spirits statutes in effect for the past three-quarters of a century.

"It's about being competitive," Maxwell said only hours after the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld those laws. "If we can offer  the same thing as liquor stores, we may not necessarily pick up shoppers-we'd be able to treat our customers better."

But some potential customers believe the tab for convenience would be too high.

"It would be easier for me to go buy it," Okolona resident Josiand Noubossi said. "But I don't want kids getting close to it."

The Sixth Circuit ruling cites similar concerns, ruling that a lower court erred when it found that Kentucky's ban on sales of wine and liquor in groceries, convenience stores and gas station violated Maxwell's constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

"We conclude that reasonably conceivable facts support the contention that grocery stores and gas stations pose a greater risk of exposing citizens to alcohol than do other retailers," Judge Deborah L. Cook wrote. "The state can reduce access by limiting the types of places that supply it, just as a parent can reduce a child's access to liquor by keeping smaller amounts in the house and by locking the liquor cabinet."

"There was, an always has been a minor's component, built in," Attorney Kenneth Handmaker said Wednesday evening.

Handmaker's client, Bellevue, Kentucky-based Liquor Outlet LLC, also known as The Party Source, had argued that restricting sales of wine and hard spirits to liquor stores offered extra protections to minors, as liquor stores ban minors from their premises.

But Handmaker also believes the ruling would allow Kroger, Meijer and other large grocery retailers to continue selling liquor, as those stores offer it in walled-off, secured sections with separate, controlled-access entrances and exits.

"We just learned of this decision in the last few hours so we certainly haven't had time to analyze the impact," said Tim McGurk, public affairs spokesman for Kroger's Mid-South Division. "I would just say that we are disappointed in today's decision and will begin to consider our next steps."

"We are still studying the appeals court with our attorneys to determine the next steps," said Ted Mason, Executive Director for the Kentucky Grocers Association.

Maxwell argued a store-within-a-store concept would penalize smaller operators of convenience stores and supermarkets.

"It's unfair, it's too expensive, we couldn't afford it," he said. Maxwell would position his wine and liquor offerings next to his beer cooler, where overhead surveillance cameras guard against theft.

"We card everybody. Any purchase of cigarettes or beer, regardless of their age we card ‘em," he said.

South Louisville resident Gene Cary isn't convinced.

"I watch kids steal every day," he said. "There'd be more hanging out, you know-more drama, more violence."

The Appeals Court ruling addresses such concerns thusly;

"Kentucky could believe that its citizenry visits grocery stores and gas stations more often (and) most people who object to confronting wine and liquor conceivably could not avoid grocery stores and gas stations."

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