Kansas City bookstore can’t sell wine because of liquor laws

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Bliss Books & Wine, a new business near Kansas City’s Hyde Park neighborhood, has an empty storefront. Unless the Kansas City Council‘s Alcoholic Beverage Advisory Board takes action, owners and sisters La’Nesha Frazier and La’Nae Robinson would have wasted valuable time and resources.

The business was denied a density-based liquor license and has yet to open, Frazier told us during a recent space tour.

“Without a liquor license, it’s just Bliss Books,” she said.

The store is located near three local schools. But that is not the problem. The Kansas City Public Schools Foreign Language Academy and Académie Lafayette, a French immersion charter school, support the company’s opening, Frazier said.

The sisters also have the support of a neighborhood group. So why aren’t the doors open? Bureaucratic red tape has slowed progress. Bliss Books & Wine remains an online-only operation for now.

“There are currently 11 businesses retailing beverage/tavern licenses located within a 3,000 foot radius,” Kansas City Regulated Industries Division Manager Jim Ready wrote in a letter denying the owners’ request for a liquor license.

“The population within the same 3,000 foot radius is 9,151. A minimum population of 18,000 is required before a Tavern Retail License can be issued at this location,” the letter continues.

The problem isn’t unique to Frazier and Robinson, who planned to open their physical location near Gillham Road and East Armor Boulevard this month. Few drinking establishments are nearby.

Other business owners in the city have been denied the right to serve alcohol due to density issues, an issue Ready acknowledges needs to be addressed.

Earlier this year, City Council, based on recommendations from the Liquor Advisory Group, rightly revised some of the ordinances that govern liquor licensing. But the changes didn’t go far enough. Some aspects of the process are still outdated, Ready wrote in a proposed further changes.

Kansas City’s “density model has become obsolete because there are many types of businesses that have an interest in obtaining a liquor license that are not simply classified as a ‘tavern’ or a ‘package store'”, he wrote.

Frazier and Robinson can understand.

The sisters’ monthly lease payments — $3,000 a month — begin in June. Due to density restrictions, the business may not open until late summer.

Will alcohol be served at this time?

Bliss Books & Wine is not a tavern or a disco

Heavy city ordinances limit the number of liquor licenses available in a particular area. Rules are in place to limit the proliferation of liquor stores and taverns, city officials said.

Bliss Books & Wine is a bookstore, not a tavern or nightclub, the owners rightly claim. Municipal officials must do all they can to ensure that small business owners compete on a level playing field.

City Council members Andrea Bough and Eric Bunch are aware of the situation. Bough spoke directly with Frazier.

Next month, at its bi-monthly meeting, the advisory group is expected to consider approving some of Ready’s proposed changes. The city council would have the final say on any updates.

If approved by the full council, the director of the city’s Regulated Industries Division would have the discretion to approve or deny an applicant’s application on a case-by-case basis.

Balancing the interests of business owners and the surrounding community is crucial. “We believe there is a solution,” said Bunch, the 4th District councilman. “But the cogs of bureaucracy turn slowly.”

The owners of Bliss Books & Wine imagine book lovers sipping wine in their tasting bar or pouring themselves a drink from a self-serve station. But their path turned out to be difficult.

This must change. And it’s up to Kansas City Council to make it easier for startups to enter the market, not harder.

What’s wrong with snuggling up to a local independent bookstore to read a good book and drink a glass of wine, anyway?

This story was originally published May 19, 2022 5:00 a.m.

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