TOPEKA, Kan. — When it comes to liquor, Kansas has been somewhat out of step with the rest of the nation. But more than a century after Carry Nation started her hatchet-swinging campaign against saloons, the state is moving more toward other states' thinking about drinking.
Kansas legislators this year have voted to remove from the books a ban on liquor stores selling on Sunday, an action that was more symbolic than plowing new legal ground. Because of court decisions, 23 cities and two counties since 2002 have authorized Sunday sales.
But local governments soon won't have to depend on a legal loophole and rely on a law that says local government can authorize Sunday sales. The bill, S.B. 298, being reviewed by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, also allows Sunday sales of cereal malt beverage, called "baby beer" because of its low alcohol content.
Don Moler, League of Kansas Municipalities executive director, said legislative efforts to fix the loophole started a couple of years ago as a move to ban all Sunday sales. It evolved into the local-option decision with "baby beer" added for groceries and convenience stores.
"It's a loosening of the liquor laws in the state of Kansas," Moler said. "The whole thing got turned around where not only can you have package sales, but also CMB on Sunday."
The legislation also expands what Kansas wineries can produce annually from 50,000 gallons to 100,000 gallons.
In 1880, Kansas became the first state to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol with a constitutional amendment.
"We have a long history in this state of being influenced by social activists, and certainly in the 19th century, one of the great reforms was battling John Barleycorn and Demon Rum, and Kansas fell under those movements very early," said Bill Wagnon, Washburn University history professor and State Board of Education member.
In a way, Kansas law can be seen as finally catching up to the times. A ban on Sunday sales has been around since Kansans struck the 1880 amendment in 1948 — 15 years after national Prohibition was repealed.
Since 2002, 11 states have adopted laws allowing either for Sunday sales or allowing local governments to make that decision, and 33 states, including Kansas, allow some form of Sunday sales, said David Ozgo, chief economist for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
"Any state will see increased revenue from having stores open on Sunday," Ozgo said.
For instance, he said, liquor stores in Oregon that opened Sundays after the law was changed in 2002 had a 12.4% increase in annual sales compared to a 4% increase for those remaining closed on Sunday.
Pee Wee Wright, who has operated a liquor store for 20 years in Kansas City, Kan., says Sunday sales have boosted his business.
"It's like another four Saturdays in the month," Wright said. "All my customers who used to go to Missouri on Sundays now come here."
Wagnon says the need by state and local governments for more revenue also is a factor in how many Kansans look at the issue.
"Gradually the appeal of revenues based on sin taxes has undermined the opposition to the sin," the history professor said.
But not everyone embraces Sunday sales, or even the sale of liquor.
"It's just a step — a little step — in the wrong direction. We're talking about our No. 1 drug problem," said the Rev. Richard Taylor of Topeka, a longtime opponent of looser liquor laws. "Alcohol causes more human, economic and social problems than all other drugs combined."
Five counties — Comanche, Doniphan, Haskell, Kiowa and Stanton — don't have liquor stores, and Haskell and Kiowa counties also don't have liquor by the drink.
Wagnon said the anti-liquor movement focused sharply on Kansas in the early 1900s when Nation, hatchet in hand, began her crusade against saloons by chopping bars and smashing mirrors.
"What motivated her was the gap between the law and enforcement. She decided to call attention to the noncompliance," Wagnon said. "She was popular among progressives and middle-class women."
The 1948 amendment didn't keep pace with the rest of the nation. It banned drinking in public places, and Kansans started taking their bottles to private clubs. As late as 1970, voters rejected "open saloons" although 16 years later liquor by the drink was allowed in bars and restaurants.
"Alcohol doesn't carry the stigma that once was attached to it," Wagnon said. "We have become much more diverse and therefore alcohol has become more acceptable."
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, most merchants — from hardware to haberdashers — were closed on Sundays. Things have changed.
"Now Sunday is the second biggest shopping day of the week, and the alcohol and beverage industry is just trying to catch up," said James Sgueno, director of National Alcohol Beverage Control Association in Alexandria, Va.
Ozgo says the campaign for Sunday sales will continue.
"If you are closed on Sunday, it takes away an important buying opportunity," he said. "The change in shopping habits dictated we had to take some sort of action to remain competitive."