Out of the wine cellar


Kentucky’s well-known ambivalence toward the legal sale of alcoholic beverages is being tested anew by a federal judge’s ruling that finds it’s unconstitutional to keep grocery stores and other retailers from purveying wine and spirits. The prohibition won’t end immediately, because there are other complications, but it looks as if another taboo is going to fall.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn ruled the liquor store/pharmacy monopoly violates the U.S. Constitution’s assurance of equal protection under the law. If his opinion stands, supermarkets as well as gas stations and who knows what else will be able to compete for the limited number of liquor licenses available statewide.

This makes sense. Hardly anyone is upset these days to encounter a well-stocked beer cooler in the grocery store. But some see “hard” liquor and wine as another matter. For those products, you have to go down the street to the drug store or the package store. Some Kentucky supermarkets have gotten around the restriction by obtaining liquor licenses and stocking their own liquor stores in buildings separate from their grocery business. The only wine you’ll see inside a grocery store for the time being is the salty “cooking” variety – anathema to celebrity chefs who admonish us not to cook with anything we wouldn’t want to drink.

The equal-protection issue also came up last year when Franklin County Fiscal Court voted 5-3 to let local distilleries sell and distribute bourbon samples on Sunday – a proposal that drew fierce opposition from church people. County Attorney Rick Sparks and Magistrate Phillip Kring argued the plan didn’t go far enough because local liquor stores would still be forbidden to sell on Sunday. Sparks warned that these business places could challenge special treatment for the distilleries and demand that they, too, be allowed to sell their products on Sunday. That hasn’t happened yet, but it still may.

Lifting the ban on wine and liquor sales at grocery stores will predictably rile up inveterate foes of any Sunday alcohol sales. Ironically, it may also come under attack from liquor stores which would have to compete with “superstores” for sales. There will be limits, however, as the state Alcoholic Beverage Control department still has rules intended to prevent an overabundance of liquor outlets. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Too much of what some consider to be a bad thing is even worse.

Keeping it all in balance has to be a concern of the Governor’s Task Force on the Study of Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws in Kentucky, appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear. The new 20-member board is looking into the possibility of updating the commonwealth’s beverage laws and making them more consistent statewide.

The repeal of Prohibition did not end the debate over alcohol sales in Kentucky, a state that’s legendary for its distilling industry and for being a tithes-paying member of the Bible belt, where lots of church-going folks still take umbrage at products that loosen inhibitions, contribute to domestic abuse and fuel drunk driving. They won’t be happy to see shoppers loading bottles of whiskey and wine into their grocery carts, but they’ve learned to live with disagreeable reality before. Current business trends favor stores that meet customers’ multiple needs in one stop. It’s probably just a matter of time before that includes a wider variety of alcoholic beverages.

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  • "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...." and Article VI specifies that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." The government should have never been in the business of regulating alcohol sales, and that goes double for imposing religious dogma on the people. The whole case against alcohol and psychoactive drug use is based in religious intolerance of anything pleasurable. "The Temperance Movement attempted to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed within a community or society in general -- and even to prohibit its production and consumption entirely. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union is a prominent example of a religion-based temperance movement." Government has no business in advocating or promoting this religious dogma, especially under the penalty of law.

  • Frankfort has a number of independent / small liquor retailers. Large stores such as Kroger and Meijer ALREADY sell wine and spirits in stores which are adjacent to their grocery stores -- just not in Frankfort. This law would allow them to knock a hole in the wall, I suppose. In my opinion the impact on smaller stores is likely to be low, since sales are often driven by convenience / location.

  • I remember Blue Bonnet. One on L'vlle Rd. and another on Holmes Street. Used to go to the one on L'vlle Road a lot since I lived down the hill in South Frankfort. I also remember Cardwell's Grocery. A part of history is gone forever and things have become so generic. Yes, I'm old...

  • My in-laws ran Cardwell's Grocery in Bridgeport for years, until it became too difficult to make a profit (or break even, some years). I miss them corner grocery stores, too. They're still around, but they're far between. Who remembers the "Blue Bonnet" stores? That'll date us for sure...

  • I mourn the demise of the corner grocery. When I moved to South Frankfort 40 years ago we had at least four corner groceries. We had one at the corner of Steele and W.Todd, one at the corner of Shelby and Second, one on E. Todd and at least one on Logan, there may have been more on that side of Capital Ave.

  • i know. i had great respect for sam walton wanting to provide goods to rural communities where they weren't available. but when his son took over, and his goal in life was to drive out all competition, i became a dinosaur. now, i have an acute aversion to walking into any of the megachains. and though i don't buy alcoholic beverages, i still mourn the demise of the corner liquor store.

  • And they are expanding......think about it both of them Kroger and Red Dot...hmmmmmm

  • tafugate - I'm pretty sure that ship has sailed. Frankfort used to have several small liquor stores. I'm thinking Red Dot East/West may be the only two left.

  • i certainly agree prohibiting sunday liquor sales is ridiculous. but allowing groceries to sell wine/spirits, will only accomplish putting the small liquor store out of business. you know, of course, the money behind pushing this is coming from kroger, walmart, meijer, etc, all the places whose goal in life is to shut down all the little guys. i think this is sad and unnecessary.

  • Well it is about time that Kentucky joins the 21st century...I have traveled throughout the U.S. and we are among the few that do not allow alcohol sales in grocery stores. Many visitors from other states comment on how backwards are liquor policies are. And as for Sunday sales it should be allowed...those who want to drink simple stock up on Saturday, blocking Sunday sales does not prevent people from enjoying their alcoholic beverage of choice.