Some Oklahoma liquor store owners feeling pinch, heat of increased competition after passage of SQ 792

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EDMOND, Okla. - Edmond Wine Shop opened its doors in 1972, catering specifically to the wine consumer, and has been in business ever since. However, since the passage of State Question 792, modernizing how and - more importantly - where wine and beer are sold in the state, it means owner Vance Gregory is faced with a new challenge.

"We've got to find 'Where's our relevance to our customers?’ and that’s our challenge," Gregory said. "We've got to stay relevant to what people want."

And, what people want, Gregory said, is convenience - convenience afforded to consumers.

Since SQ 792 went into effect last October, it removed the distinction between low-point 3.2 percent alcohol beer and "strong" beer, allowing liquor stores to sell refrigerated "strong" beer, and grocery and convenience stores to do the same, along with wine. Previously, stand-alone liquor stores were the only places in the state to purchase high-point beer, wine, as well as spirits.

"I like to think we can compete on selection and service, but we can’t really compete on convenience," Gregory said. "We can't be everywhere the grocery stores are. There are a lot of grocery stores out there."

With the increased competition, Gregory said it's meant a decrease in foot traffic and sales.

"20-25 percent, it's certainly a significant amount," he said of his sales declines from last quarter, year-to-year. "I can’t see how all the liquor stores currently in business are going to be able to survive this. There's too much competition out there, so I think it will take a year or two before you see the final wash out of all the stores closing."

To compete, Gregory said he's diversified his product offerings. Liquor stores can now sell non-alcoholic products, from mixers to bottle openers. Gregory has begun selling flowers, cards and other items to try and offset the competition and provide more of a convenience to the shopper who comes into his store at 1520 S. Boulevard.

Diversifying can only do so much. Bryan Kerr said retail liquor stores are under immense pressure because of the nearly-instantaneous increase in competition from much larger competitors across the state.

"We went from having 680 outlets that sold strong beer, wine and liquor, to 680 outlets that sell liquor, strong beer and wine - and another 4,000 or 5,000 competitors in the strong beer and wine arena. So, when you put that kind of competition in what was a 680 market limit or one that was already saturated, then you already start to lose some of those," said Kerr, who is president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma and also owns his own retail store in Moore. "Here, in Moore, we've already seen three stores move or go under. Two of them just decided to cease business altogether, and then one of them moved to a new location and is trying to compete at that new location."

By and large, both Kerr and Gregory said your corner store can easily compete with its larger competitors when it comes to beer, wine and liquor prices, selection and customer service. But, one area that is hard to compete with is the shopper running errands who can easily pick up a case of beer or wine, instead of making a second trip.

"The entire issue for the local liquor store is really convenience," Kerr said.

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