LA CROSSE, Wis. - Local grocers say a state bill that would allow take-out alcohol sales earlier in the day is more convenient to shoppers, though others worry it contradicts efforts to change Wisconsin's drinking culture.
Under the pending legislation retailers could sell alcohol at 6 a.m., two hours earlier than current law.
Local grocers say the move would help customers heading out early for camping and fishing trips or sporting events.
"They don't have to stop and buy it in Milwaukee, Madison or North Dakota when they're traveling," Festival Foods chairman Dave Skogen said. "They can buy it right here at a more competitive price."
Opening sales at 6 a.m. also would meet the needs of third-shift workers and those who shop during off-peak hours, Skogen said.
"They don't want to go home and come back. It's a convenience thing," said state Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, the bill's co-author.
Although he thinks most consumers purchase alcohol before the morning of a trip, Woodman's manager Tom Wysocki said the Onalaska, Wis., store supports "any legal purchase of alcohol.
"It would make it easier for a segment of our customers," Wysocki said.
While earlier sales likely would not have a significant effect on alcohol-related offenses, La Crosse County Sheriff Steve Helgeson pointed to the ongoing effort in the county to reduce the drinking culture.
"I just hope it doesn't send the wrong message," he said.
That's exactly what it will do, argued Pat Ruda, executive director of Coulee Council on Addictions and member of the Changing the Culture of Risky Drinking Behavior Coalition.
"Easier access equals more use," Ruda said.
The state is plagued by myriad alcohol problems and has far more lenient liquor laws than states such as Minnesota, where liquor stores remain closed on Sundays, she said.
"Why are we moving toward more availability?" she said.
The Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association supports the measure for the same reasons as local grocers.
"If ... it makes it more convenient for customers to purchase beer for camping trips or sporting events ... it seems to make sense," spokeswoman Pam Christenson said.
The La Crosse County Tavern League has taken a neutral stance, since local bars don't do much carry-out business, president Mike Brown said. Most taverns have limited cooler space they must keep stocked for on-premises consumption.
"Most bars don't try to compete with stores," Brown said.