Hearne: KC Ministers, Liquor Control Stick It to ‘Little Guys’

Blue-LawsHow blue can you get?

It’s Chiefs season and small local bars and taverns are seeing red. But not because the home team is 6-0 and may be Super Bowl bound.

Not even close.

Nope, it’s because Regulated Industries aka Liquor Control has allowed a small group of civic volunteers to enforce discriminatory Sunday Blue Laws that in most halfway enlightened communities have long since gone the way of the dinosaur.

“For years bars with an occupancy of under 300 people couldn’t be open on Sunday unless they had $60,000 in non alcoholic sales annually,” says bar owner and Westport businessman Bill Nigro. “So I went to the city council and said, why don’t we allow the little bars to be open on Sunday to create more jobs and revenue for the city? And they sent the idea to Liquor Control who put the idea before a relatively new community group called the Alcoholic Beverage Advisory Group to determine if it should be done.”

However when that board met to consider and vote on the idea, most of the key players conveniently no-showed – including the big bar owners like Chris Lewellen (Lew’s, The Well) and Kyle Kelly (Kelly’s) who stood to suffer from small bar competition. In fact, only two neighborhood reps and two ministers showed up for the big vote.

Chris Lewellen

Chris Lewellen

Net result? 

“They said the little bars could be open on Sunday but only if they were able to get consents from surrounding property owners,” Nigro says. “And the consent process takes a minimum of four months. First you have to get the X / Y coordinates of your front door from outer space. Then the city has to determine all of the property owners within 350 feet and notify them that you need their permission to be open Sundays and then you need over half of them to say OK.”

Bull hockey, Nigro says.

“Look, they already have liquor licenses, why should they have to get consents to be open on Sunday? I was at the meeting and I said to one of the  ministers, “Do you think that God wanted to punish the little bars by not letting them be open on Sunday?’ And I said, ‘What’s the difference between Sunday and Monday anyway?’ And his response was, ‘Now don’t go there.’ ”

Don’t go there indeed…

Sunday Blue Laws have been around for decades – centuries even – but why penalize the little guys and give the big guys a pass, Nigro asks?

Not familiar with the term “Blue Laws,” I’ll let David J. Hanson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Sociology of the State University of New York explain:

“A blue law is one restricting activities or sales of goods on Sunday, to accommodate the Christian sabbath. The first blue law in the American colonies was enacted in Virginia in 1617. It required church attendance and authorized the militia to force colonists to attend church services.”

demon alcoholNigro’s take on the outdated concept:

“I thought church and state were supposed to be separate. So why else would small bars not be allowed to be open on Sunday? By making them go through the consents process they’re going to miss the entire Chiefs season which is going to cost them a lot of money. And for what? Because two ministers and two neighborhood group leaders decided they needed to get consents even though they’re open every other day of the week ?”


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6 Responses to Hearne: KC Ministers, Liquor Control Stick It to ‘Little Guys’

  1. paulwilsonkc says:

    Let me comment on this from a “Christian” perspective. Mr Nigro quotes it wrong, so do 99% of the people when it comes to church and state. This concept isn’t in the Constitution or any of our founding documents, it’s only eluded to and paraphrased from Article 1 in the Bill of Rights;
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
    religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
    speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and
    to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
    That’s all there is to it.
    The idea any church would oppose bars opening on Sunday is pretty foreign to my thinking, unless the bar is in the church’s front yard and plays music or the game so loud they can’t conduct their service.
    Other than that; render to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is Gods! Period.
    Play ball, start your engines or flip the coin.

    • the dude says:

      Sunday don’t mean nothin’ to the jews, watchtower pamphlet passers and 7th day adventist people I see at Panera all the time on Saturdays.

  2. Joyce Hess says:

    My father opened Dave’s Club 423 in Westport in 1952. He moved it to 316 Westport Road in 1972 and named it Dave’s Stagecoach Inn. My husband has been operating the bar since 1981. For over 60 years, we have served up a good time to our customers Monday – Saturday and become a neighborhood institution, but never on Sunday as we didn’t meet the size or revenue requirement imposed by the liquor regulations. After the smoking ban, we fought long and hard to gain our neighbor consents for a 3am license and expansion of premises to build an outdoor patio. We went before the liquor board to plead our case against a faction who tried to block the granting of our 3am license. Now, after 60 years in business, when we can FINALLY open our doors on Sundays, we are once again being asked to obtain “consent” from the neighboring property owners for their “permission” to be open? We are open Monday – Saturday, 9am – 3am, after obtaining all the needed consents and operating within the rules and regulations of the City of Kansas City. Trying to obtain consents from neighboring property owners who largely consist of out-of-town corporations presents an undue hardship on our small business and a delay in adding more jobs and revenue to the city. Guess we’ll have to watch the Chiefs on Sundays next year at Dave’s!!

    • chuck says:

      I have done work for so many small bars in town and the city tortures them. I believe this lady’s experience is true because it sounds exactly like the same strory I have heard again and again from small bar owners throughout the city. The powers that be in City Hall want everyone to go to the P and L so they can mitigate the 14 million dollars a year that place is costing the tax payers.

      I don’t know if it is still true, but back in the 70s and 80s a Liquor License was 5K under the table or you had to know some one.

      Kansas City has consistantly shut down small business’ with needless regulations and burdensome taxes. It is what it is.

      • the dude says:

        The squeaky green wheels get the consideration from the nabobs at city hall while the little guy suffers.

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