MOORE, Okla. - A trip to the liquor store may soon be costing you more money.
"This is just the latest increase in February. It's going another 4 percent. But, it's been slowly increasing every two months since last year when the vote went through,” said Bryan Kerr, owner of Moore Liquor.
Kerr is talking about the percentage markup the wholesalers charge him when he buys alcohol from them.
Oklahoma alcohol distribution laws said a manufacturer must sell to either a distributor or wholesaler and, then, the middle man sells the product to individual liquor stores.
Kerr blames the increase on a little known change that was part of State Question 792, overwhelmingly approved by voters in November 2016, to modernize Oklahoma’s liquor laws.
"It's just a recipe for disaster for the consumer when you concentrate that much power into the two guys that control most of the brands on the liquor store shelf," Kerr said.
The law changes the rules for manufacturers.
Right now, they have to sell to all distributors and wholesalers at the same price.
But, after the law goes into effect October 1, they can choose to sell to only one.
Kerr said the two biggest wholesalers in our state will get most of the deals, allowing them to raise prices as much as they see fit because there won’t be any competition.
"It's just a matter of how greedy the guys at the top get. Come October 1st, there is nothing stopping them from setting whatever price they think they want to make on it. And, that's what we'll have to pay as retailers, and that will be passed on unfortunately to the consumer,” Kerr said.
He said we’re already seeing price hikes ahead of the law change because many, smaller wholesalers who don’t feel like they can compete for the exclusive contracts are quitting the business.
"That basically smothers 90 percent of the business that the other wholesalers had access to that they no longer will have access to,” Kerr said.
"I've seen the prices going up and up at different stores. And, I don't like it,” said Jeremy Campbell, a Moore Liquor customer.
Kerr points to Crown Royal as an example.
Right now, he sells it for $43.32.
One year ago, it cost Kerr around $38 to buy it from the wholesaler and he sold it to the consumer for $41.98.
Come February 1, it will cost him $42 to buy it from the wholesaler and he’ll have to mark up his price to around $46.
"We had, about a year ago, a spirits markup at the wholesale level of under 7 percent. After February 1st, that number will be 17 percent. So, a 10 percent increase in just over a year," Kerr said.
Senator Stephanie Bice, the author of the bill revamping our liquor laws, said Kerr has no factual basis to back up his claims.
She said this is getting back to a free market system, allowing manufacturers to choose who sells their products, instead of being dictated by the state of Oklahoma.
And, she adds, in a free market economy, prices can’t go too high or else the product won’t sell.
She said the new law will benefit Oklahomans who have asking for decades to be able to buy cold beer and wine in the grocery store.
And, she said stores like Moore Liquor will also benefit by being able to sell things they’ve never been able to, like low point and cold beer.