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    Been to Target lately? Of course you have. And did you notice something different beginning late last year? There’s booze!

    A couple months ago, I saw champagne, bourbon, wine, vodka, beer — all of it — sitting right there near those damn fine Archer Farms trail mixes. The aisle of glistening bottles confused me. It seemed definitely indulgent, possibly illegal. I thought Kentucky law mandated that places selling groceries couldn’t also sell wine or distilled spirits. That’s why Kroger, Costco and Trader Joe’s sidestep the rule with dividing walls, usually made of glass so you dare not forget alcohol is indeed available.

    Robert Kirchdorfer, the city’s director of codes and regulations and our local ABC (alcoholic beverage control) administrator, admits he was taken aback when he first heard of Target’s application for a license to sell wine and distilled spirits. But Kentucky law states that a store can do so if groceries account for less than 10 percent of its total sales. Target provided monthly accounting documents proving this was the case. (Kirchdorfer has a hunch that Walmart may not be in the same boat because many of its customers come with the intention of buying groceries. Unlike Target, where you go for diapers and fill your cart with shoes, art supplies and, yes, that shirt because it’s on sale and, sure, that lotion because it smells divine and, oh yeah, some baby carrots and bananas.)

    Here’s a funky kink in Kentucky law: Walgreens and CVS can obtain a license for wine and liquor sales because, long ago, legislators decided that if there’s a licensed pharmacist onsite, all kinds of alcohol can be sold. But gas stations cannot sell wine and liquor because any place that makes a “substantial part” of sales from “gasoline and lubricating oil” is not eligible. Gas stations can, however, obtain a license to sell beer and malt beverages. And have you heard that a few Family Dollar locations in Louisville have applied to sell beer and malt liquor?

    The laws seem puzzling, but I grew up in California, where grocery stores sold all kinds of booze. As a kid, I distinctly remember admiring the purple velvet gowns worn by Crown Royal bottles. Kirchdorfer says many of Kentucky’s alcohol sales laws go back decades and that, when it comes to the rationale behind them, he “can’t explain a lot.”

    As far as Target’s debut on the booze scene last December, Kirchdorfer has another hunch. Grocery retailers may start picking at legislators, requesting an end to dividing walls. “This Target thing, you never know what will happen this legislative session,” Kirchdorfer says. “It might stir that question back up.”

    This originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine as the Why Louisville? bit. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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