Apr 25, 2023

Lawmaker Takes Aim at Texas Liquor Law

Reporting Texas

In compliance with Texas law, Austin’s Nueces Liquor remains closed on Sunday, March 26, 2023. A lawmaker wants to change that so liquor stores and distilleries can sell bottled liquor on Sunday. Rush Skinner/Reporting Texas

In Ledbetter, about 65 miles east of Austin, a small whisky distillery sits off of Highway 290. The charcoal gray building is adorned with big white letters above the front doors that read “Kooper Family Whiskey.” It’s dark inside. Edison bulbs strung along the ceiling cast a warm glow throughout the tasting room. Whiskey barrels, three deep,  line a wall next to wooden tables and chairs.  

Michelle Kooper, co-owner of Kooper Family Whiskey, greeted customers as they filed in on a busy Saturday afternoon in April. A Houston man sat at the bar drinking a cocktail. He happened to be in the area and stopped by to pick up some bottles of his favorite whiskey. Bottles of Kooper Family Whisky range from $45 to $70.

This is a typical Saturday at the Kooper Family Whiskey distillery. It’s closed on Sundays since state law dictates that businesses can only sell liquor for on-premise consumption on Sunday. Kooper wishes the law was different.

“I think it’s really hard for us smaller guys to make [a profit]. We would be able to be more profitable, meaning we’d be able to give more jobs to people. We would be contributing more sales tax, more mixed beverage tax, all of our taxes would go up, because we’d be able to do more business,” Kooper said. 

Texas Rep. John Bucy discusses his proposed bill that would allow sales of liquor for off-premise use on Sundays. Rush Skinner/Reporting Texas

Rep. John Bucy, D-Austin, has filed House Bill 1346, which would give counties the ability to allow sales of liquor for off-premise use on Sundays. HB 1346 would empower counties to hold an election and allow voters to decide the matter. Bucy filed a similar bill in 2021, but it never made it to a vote.

Since distilleries cannot sell their bottled product on Sunday, they are at a competitive disadvantage with wineries and breweries, which can sell their bottled products to consumers every day of the week, Bucy said. The measure would allow distilleries to better compete with wineries and breweries, he added.  

“We think about traveling as a tourist … going down to Fredericksburg. There’s wineries there. A lot of people will take tours, but there’s also distilleries there. I can’t support that distillery on a Sunday equally? That’s just crazy to me. It’s not pro-business,” Bucy said. 

Unlike wineries that can sell bottled wine on Sundays, distilleries, such as The Fang & Feather, 20 miles southwest of Austin, cannot sell bottled spirits on that day. Rush Skinner/Reporting Texas

Dan Garrison, founder of Garrison Brothers Distillery located in Hye, 60 miles west of Austin, expressed frustration that he cannot compete with dozens of wineries within 20 miles of his business due to the law prohibiting the sale of bottled liquor on Sundays. 

“Sunday is one of the busiest tourism days in the Hill Country, where our distillery is located. So I would conservatively estimate that the state’s mandate that we cannot sell bourbon on Sundays equates to a 30% annual loss in revenue,” Garrison said.

In 2020, Texas distilleries generated nearly $2 billion in revenue, according to a 2022 study by researchers at UTSA Institute for Economic Development

National prohibition was repealed in 1933. Texas voters rejected state prohibition laws in 1935, prompting the Texas Legislature to pass the Texas Liquor Control Act, which banned sales of liquor on Sunday. 

Texas had dozens of other so-called blue laws on the books — banning the sale of items including cars, knives and washing machines. By 1985, most of them had been repealed, but the liquor law remained.

Allowing counties to vote on the Sunday liquor law is a way to “find compromise and make progress,” Bucy said. 

“I think some of the opposition, or where this comes from historically, was probably tied to religion and our values,” Bucy said. “I think a Texas value is freedom and liberty and this bill is right up that aisle,” he added. 

Some small business owners disagree. 

Austin resident and owner of Oak Liquor Cabinet, Raju Malik, said he works 10 a.m. to  9 p.m. most days, but he gets Sundays off, thankfully.

“I’m here. I come early, I leave late,” Malik said. “I come to do my paperwork for a couple hours every Sunday. If the store opens seven days a week, we don’t have time to spend time with families.” 

Daven Carter, owner of Gunter’s Liquor in Austin, expressed similar sentiments.

“We’ve got along just fine having liquor stores closed on Sundays. It gives a small business owner a chance to be closed, and live his life and have some family time. I know my competition isn’t over there going ‘Oh, he’s closed, and we’re open.’ You know? And so it gives people like me a chance to have a day off,” Carter said.   

Jennifer Stevens, spokesperson for The Texas Package Store Association, said that they have always been opposed to legislation that would allow liquor stores to be open on Sunday. 

“Studies have shown that absolutely no sales increase. So what you do is spread your cost from six days to seven. Which means prices go up. So we don’t see any reason to do that,” Stevens said.    

Isaac Chavira shows the amount of money that could be made from bottled liquor sales on Sunday at Fang & Feather distillery. Rush Skinner/Reporting Texas

Michelle Kooper said she’s not holding her breath while she waits for the Sunday bottle sales option. She thinks it’s “a really big ask for the state of Texas” to change laws that affect both liquor stores and distilleries.

“If they passed it, I would be pleasantly surprised. If not, you know, that’s fine. I’m able to operate Monday through Saturday. That’s great for me. You know, I’m [still] able to do business,” Kooper said.