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Oklahoma distributors, retailers prepare to tap out of 3.2 beer

(KOKH/FILE)

The last call for 3.2 beer is upon us in Oklahoma. The state is tapping out of its antiquated alcohol laws and into the 21st century. But getting there is no easy task.

"One of our big challenges is winding down the 3.2 inventory,” said Rick Higginson, vice president of sales and marketing at Capital Distributing. “We sell over four million cases of 3.2 beer out of this warehouse, and I've never seen a time in my career when I was trying to run out of everything."

Higginson says the company began anticipating a change in alcohol laws in early 2016. They completed a 102,000-square foot expansion project and added 7,000 additional square feet of cooler space. They'll also be adding employees to their sales and delivery departments, as well as purchasing several more delivery trucks. But this extra space and help won't assist them in clearing 3.2 beer off store shelves.

"Let's face it, come October 1 consumers are going to be looking for full-strength beer, you know in their grocery and in convenience and looking for Coors Light and Miller Light in their liquor channel. It's going to take us some time to get those stores set up and to bleed the 3.2 beer out of the market,” Higginson told FOX 25.

This isn't a concern for Lisa Newport, owner of Midwest Wine and Spirits. As a licensed liquor store, full-strength beer can already be found on Newport's shelves, but it's hot. That will change come October 1.

"We went into this build, or this build-out, anticipating the law change, so with that we went ahead and built our cooler system in,” Newport said. “Even though it's not turned on, we are actually kind of teaching our customers where to go, where to come, where the beer is going to be."

Newport considers herself ahead of the curve. Other retailers, though, may not be so fortunate. Many are still waiting on proper licenses, which is a monumental task resting on the shoulders of Oklahoma's ABLE Commission.

"They need more agents. There's going to be so many moving parts. The pressure on those guys is going to be incredible,” said Higginson.

Higginson would like to see the commission receive more funding to hire more agents.

In the meantime, both he and Newport are hoping for a smooth transition.

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