Area stores were ready Oct. 1 with newly renovated spaces for the sale of full-strength beer and wine and continue with the transition now that Oklahoma's new alcohol laws have taken effect.
MIAMI – Oklahomans saw the start of full-strength beer and wine sales after changes in Oklahoma law took effect Monday. In Miami, several stores have renovated and added space to allow for stocking more liquor and cold beer.
Since 1971 the late George Foster's liquor store Foster's Package Store/Bev's Beverages on Steve Owens Blvd. has sold alcohol in Miami from a two-sided facility, one side for hard liquor and the other side for 3.2 beer and convenience items.
On Tuesday Foster's daughter, Kelly Foster-Carpenter, carrying on her parents' legacy as owner and operator, said the business has the second oldest liquor license in existence issued in Oklahoma.
“I wish my dad was here to see this,” Foster-Carpenter said gazing at the large, newly constructed pass-through where a wall once stood dividing the stores. “I think he would be excited we get to finally take the wall down and get to expand it. All the advice my dad gave me I think prepared me for this day, for this modernization and transition.”
In a state that had some of the more restrictive liquor laws in the nation, Oklahoma voters' approval of State Question 792 in November of 2016 saw the end of 3.2 beer and the start of several new changes to the state's liquor laws on Oct. 1, 2018. Convenience and grocery stores are allowed to sell wine in 41 other states, and only five states have prohibition based on the alcohol proof of beer.
The two-year delay in implementation of SQ792 was designed to allow stores to make business and logistical changes to adapt to the new legislation.
The amendment to the state constitution allows for the sale of stronger high-point beer and wine with an alcohol beverage volume of up to 8.99 percent in liquor stores, convenience stores and other retailers. Prior to the passage of SQ792, stores were prohibited from selling beer above 3.2 percent alcohol content by volume.
Liquor stores in the state are also now allowed to sell refrigerated cold beer and certain items that don't contain alcohol such as soda, food, corkscrews and bottle openers as long as those sales don’t exceed 20 percent of the store’s monthly sales.
The law also allows Oklahoma winemakers to ship wine to residents over age 21 for the first time.
The state's liquor distribution system will change from a four to a three-tier system as well. The current levels are producer/supplier, wholesaler/distributor, broker/retailer. With the passage of SQ792 brokers will merge into the wholesaler designation.
Employees at grocery and convenience stores must be at least 18 in order to handle or sell beer or wine. Employees at liquor stores must be 21.
Proponents of SQ792 say the ability for Oklahoma stores to sell stronger beer and wine will boost the state's economy and state tax revenues and keep consumers from traveling across state lines to purchase the beverages. The opposition argued the change would hurt small retail package stores as shoppers can now purchase beverages from bigger retail chains.
Miami's 24-hour Wal-Mart Super Center, 2415 N Main St., has been preparing for the shift to offer wine and cold, high-point beer to customers for just over a month and the results have shoppers very happy, according to Wal-Mart Store Manager Chuck Stotts.
"The customers are really enjoying the new selections of beers and wines we can offer them. I have had a lot of comments on the convenience of the one-stop shopping and the variety," said Stotts.
The rear section of the grocery side of the store has been revamped with coolers and shelving for wine and cold, high-point beer occupying the space once used for sodas and flavored waters.
While the bulk of the work at Miami's Wal-Mart Supercenter has been completed, Stotts explained there will be additional coolers installed in the coming weeks to accommodate the full range of beer and wine products now becoming available to Oklahoma shoppers.
"We started preparing in the first week of September, and it took roughly 14 days to make the main transition and of course we're still transitioning as the rest of the fixtures come in. Should be by mid-October when we will be one hundred percent with all product out and in its right location," said Stotts.
Foster-Carpenter's store is open for business and under renovation, which should be completed soon with a new look and layout to allow expansion of her stock of liquors, beers and wines.
The old flooring was ripped out to reveal layers of old flooring, and she updated coolers in the store, and had to add a beam was added to structurally support the new walkthrough space, all were expensive renovations and big investments.
“We had every decade of carpeting under there, red, brown, we had strips. I believe we had 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s,” Foster -Carpenter said laughing. “A lot of time and energy went into this. I've got good people, Marty (Carpenter) has been here 15 years as a manager, and he's back.”
Working out the kinks of distribution under the new law took some time, according to Foster-Carpenter, but the process has now worked out smoothly.
“I'll have more choices, more flavors and I'll be able to focus more on my wine that I already carry, and fill more special orders,” Foster-Carpenter said. “With the strong beer I'll be able to carry a lot more selection of strong and craft beers and I can carry it cold. I'll actually be able to carry a lot more stuff and mixers and there are new products coming in all the time.”
Offering a larger variety of alcoholic beverages, special orders and services help the smaller liquor stores compete and prosper, according to Foster-Carpenter. The Foster's Liquor Store offers an instant chiller that can rapidly cool bottles of alcoholic beverages, and sells kegs within 48 hours notice.
“With the new law you can't own a liquor store and a convenience store at the same time,” Foster- Carpenter said. “So, I chose to do the liquor store and knock out the wall and expand it into one liquor store with strong beer. I'll still have cold beer, and I'm the only one in town that will have cigars too. I also carry earwax candles, dart supplies, gifts and t-shirts, Route 66, Harley Davison and other biker items. “
Foster-Carpenter said convenience and a larger selection are the main assets her store offers that larger stores cannot.
The change in Oklahoma's liquor laws is something Foster-Carpenter sees as an important positive progression for the business.
“I do wish my parents were here to see it because this is something my dad had talked about since 1971, 47 years ago,” she said.
SQ792 passed by a vote of 93,848 to 492,422.
Dorothy Ballard is the Managing news editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @dm_ballard.
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.