— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The number of liquor stores in Oklahoma continues to rise despite recent efforts to change state law to let grocery stores sell wine.
Oklahoma now has 666 liquor stores — the most since the 1980s, according to records kept by the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.
Liquor stores and wineries have been increasing in numbers for much of the past decade, records show.
In 2001, the state had 12 wineries and 538 liquor stores.
Wineries now total 62, and there are 128 more liquor stores in operation today than there were 11 years ago.
There were 605 liquor stores in 1991 before a decade's worth of declines dropped that number to 538.
Twenty years ago, there were only two wineries.
ABLE Director A. Keith Burt said liquor store numbers typically fluctuate. He said the reasons for this are largely unknown to those in the industry.
"When I first got here, in the mid-'80s, there were about 850 liquor stores in the state," Burt told The Oklahoman.
Liquor and wine merchants say recent efforts by Oklahomans for Modern Laws to get laws changed to allow grocery stores in the state's largest counties to sell wine apparently have not scared people away.
Jill Ogden has been an owner or part-owner of a liquor store since 2003.
Ogden, an Edmond resident who runs 2nd Street Wine Co. with her husband, said she thinks liquor stores are attractive because of the relatively low start-up costs.
"I think part of it is that people look at it as an investment," she said. "Really, all you have is your inventory ... and it doesn't really spoil."
Ogden also said regular, set hours are a lure for some new business owners but that others are scared away by all the regulations that come with operating a liquor store.
"Your whole investment, really, is your inventory," she said.
"You're not out having to build a building. You're not out a ton of money to start out, depending on the size of the store.
"Plus, everything you put into it, you're going to get out of it. it's worth something."
Another thing that lures new business owners, Ogden said, is the thirst the public has for wine and liquor.
"People say it's recession-proof. I've heard that ever since I got into the business," Ogden said. "People may change what they drink, but they still drink."
Oklahomans for Modern Laws has been actively seeking to change Oklahoma's liquor laws for years.
Its latest effort survived scrutiny by Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, but now the group must get the question on the ballot for voters to decide.
To do so, Oklahomans for Modern Laws must collect more than 150,000 signatures and likely survive another challenge from liquor store owners and other opponents of the law change regarding the signatures.
The latest question crafted by the group essentially would allow grocery stores of a certain size to sell wine, and only in Oklahoma's 15 largest counties.
When — and if — that will happen remains to be seen.
Ogden said wine accounts for "about 60 percent" of her store's sales.
"It scares us to death here in Oklahoma," she said. "There's a huge chunk of our business just lost."
Ogden said she is fearful that the proposed law change will give certain grocery stores an unfair advantage because liquor and wine stores cannot sell unrelated products.
"We just want a fair playing field," she said.
"And the way they have it written up, it doesn't seem fair for liquor store owners. That's our biggest concern."