Changing liquor laws hurt local businesses

Matt Trovalli | Reporter

Kyvan Rasolkhani, owner of University Liquor, is a well of knowledge when it comes to Oklahoma liquor. Kyvan has faced many hurdles since his store opened in 2005, but a massive new change is coming that will really hurt his business – new liquor laws.

S2TXT_Trovalli_UniversityLiquor_MM2“I know it’s pretty much going to be the death of us,” Rasolkhani said. “If you have beer and wine at the grocery store what do you think is going to happen to liquor prices? We have to make up our income somehow.”

On September 10, 2015 the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma released a proposal that would change the way alcohol is sold in Oklahoma. This proposal, if adopted, would allow any outlet currently carrying 3.2% alcohol content beer to sell stronger, refrigerated beer. This means places like University Liquor wouldn’t be the only place you can get strong beer. Bryan Kerr, President of the liquor association, acknowledges that these laws will hurt liquor stores.

“There’s no question that the retail package stores are giving some money up in this deal,” Kerr said, “but it’s a consumer driven issue. There is no position that we can take as retailers that says ‘I want to preserve 100% of the money I currently make’ without also saying ‘screw you’ to the consumer.”

University Liquor is loved by many students at The University of Oklahoma. Rasolkhani believes that his biggest consumer base is OU students, regardless of the fact that OU is an alcohol-free campus. However, Ryan Whitman, a student at OU, says he won’t buy beer from University Liquor anymore when these laws go into effect.

“University Liquor is always helpful and they’ve got the best selection around,” Whitman said, “but it’s just easier to buy beer at a gas station that’s open more hours than liquor stores.”

There were many liquor laws addressed in the liquor association proposal, but legal hours of operation aren’t being changed for a very specific reason.

“Studies show that when you increase the density of strong alcohol outlets” Kerr said, “and you increase the number of hours and you decrease the price it becomes easier for people who shouldn’t have it to get a hold of it, then your alcohol related crimes increase.”

Rasolkhani is happy the liquor association isn’t proposing new business hours for liquor retail stores. With the current laws allowing liquor stores to be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Sundays are his only day off during the week.

“I like what little days I have off,” Rasolkhani said, “which are little to nothing.”

The main benefit for liquor stores will be that it will still be illegal for grocery stores and gas stations to sell hard liquor, making liquor stores the only place liquor can be purchased. This is good for University Liquor because Rasolkhani said that most of their sales are done in whiskey and vodka.

The way University Liquor plans to compete after these laws go into place is rather simple. Liquor prices will have to go up to support the income lost on beer. Rasolkhani said even though he will be able to refrigerate and sell strong beer, he probably won’t renovate the store to add more refrigerators for beer. The main way they plan to stay competitive though is their customer service and wide selection of rare items.

“We try to cater to the best we can, and save them some cash if we can,” Rasolkhani said, “plus we have a bunch of eclectic stuff that’s hard to get, very hard to get.”

These laws aren’t all bad news for University Liquor though. The liquor association proposal also suggests that “customers should be able to buy mixers, corkscrews, glassware, cigars and other items inside their local Retail Package Store.” This would make the shopping experience easier on consumers and hopefully push for a more competitive liquor store environment, as well as add a new avenue of sales to University Liquor.

There’s no doubt that these laws could hurt University Liquor, but Rasolkhani plans to adapt to the new laws and compete in the new environment.

“We’ve also asked to be able to sell products other than alcohol in our stores so that we can shape our stores into something that is bigger and better than what we have now,” Kerr said.

“Maybe in the long-run those that really want to compete and those that really want to hyper-serve the consumer win. As long as we don’t sacrifice public safety in the process it could be a win for all,” he said.

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