McLouth zoning laws prevent most liquor inside city limits
Karen Bartlett offers her diners the best.
Fried chicken dinner with all the trimmings.
Homemade pies baked fresh by Aunt Norma.
Service with a smile.
These are usual fare at Bartlett's Fried Chicken and Catering in McLouth.
But one thing Bartlett can't serve to her diners is a glass of wine -- or a bottle of beer.
In an era where cities in Kansas are approving Sunday liquor sales, McLouth is the odd man out. For as long as anybody can remember, the city has been -- for all intents and purposes -- dry.
According to McLouth City Clerk Ruth Edmonds, a city ordinance requires that stores that sell liquor must be at least 1,000 feet away from a church. So far, that's been discouragement enough.
"Anybody that's applied for a license was always within 1,000 feet of a church," Edmonds said.
Dry as a bone
Edmonds' father, John Bower, has lived just outside McLouth for all of his 92 years. Bower has kept up with events in McLouth, as well as the state.
He served as the area's legislator in the Kansas House of Representatives from 1952 until 1976.
The city's ordinance keeps McLouth dry, Bower said.
"They've used that zoning feature in the law that in fact shuts it out," Bower said. "Anybody in town would have to build a new building -- they would have to go to a lot of expense. ... Basically it's intended that you don't sell it close to the school or the church -- but in a small town they've used that law to avoid having any sales."
By no means does Bower's interpretation of the law indicate he's in favor of bellying up to the bar, buying packaged liquor or even sipping a glass of wine at a McLouth restaurant.
Bowers' grandmother and mother were members of the McLouth Women's Christian Temperance Union.
Each year Bower's wife, Mary, pays her $10 dues to continue her membership with the Kansas WCTU. And, she was an active member of the McLouth WCTU, an organization that has faded -- at least in McLouth -- in recent years.
"We've disbanded," Mary said of the group, which used to meet monthly at a member's home. "I was part of it until we got down to about three members. Most of us still belong, but we just belong to the state."
The members took their meetings seriously, pledging, among other things, to raise their children in homes without alcohol.
"We had lessons, on temperance and drugs and that kind of stuff," Mary said. "Each year we were supposed to read five books ... that were the latest on such things."
Obviously, the Bowers number among those who would be disappointed to see liquor sold in McLouth.
"I'd rather not see it," Mary said.
And John Bower said he, too, would be unhappy.
"But the interesting thing is, members change on the city council and the mayor, and I don't see any move to change what they're doing there," John said.
Jim Schonherr, McLouth mayor for the past two years, said it would be a good idea to allow liquor sales in McLouth, but it should be a decision made by the citizens. According to the 2000 census, 868 people live in McLouth.
"It would be such a hot topic that I don't think it should be the council's choice," Schonherr said. "As mayor, my opinion is it should be left up to the community to decide."
Schonherr runs an automotive repair business as well as a 24-hour towing service.
"I say I would rather see a package store in town for the reason that if you drive to Tongie to get a 24-pack of beer, how many are you going to drink before you get back," Schonherr said.
Schonherr also recalled seeing one resident who used to make a daily drive to buy liquor.
"I'd meet him every day, he ran to Oskie every day to buy two bottles of wine and on the way home he'd drink some of the wine," Schonherr said. "... But he had to go somewhere to buy it."
Dean Mailand, a McLouth city council member who used to live in Tonganoxie, expressed sentiments similar to those of the mayor.
"I don't want to see a bar in town -- that is not something I want to see at all," Mailand said. "But I would like to see a restaurant where you can get wine or beer with your dinner, or a liquor store."
The Casey's General Store in McLouth is said to be one of a handful in Kansas that does not sell beer.
Casey's store manager Johanna Gritz, said once in a while people who are passing through ask about beer.
"But most of the town people know that it can't be sold in the city limits," Gritz said.
On the outside
But it can be sold outside the city limits.
At the annual McLouth threshing bee, held the first weekend of August, it's possible to buy a cold brew and sip it in the shade.
Ruth Edmonds, the city clerk of McLouth, said only a small portion of the threshing bee grounds is inside the city limits.
"But most of it is in the county," Edmonds said. "And where the beer garden is it's outside the city limits."
And year round, there's beer available near McLouth. Charlie Cook, owner of Cook's Tire and Bait, sells 3.2 beer. Cook's store is 1 1/2 west of McLouth. He's been selling beer for about 15 years, and Cook said, the bulk of his beer sales are not to residents of McLouth, but to fishermen headed to area lakes.
Karen Bartlett has been trying to sell her restaurant -- which is well inside the city limits -- for two years. Prospective buyers have expressed interest in serving alcohol.
"Every one of them has asked," said Bartlett, who has owned the restaurant with her husband, Butch, for eight years. "Because most of the serious buyers are chefs and they want to be able to serve a drink with their dinner."
Her restaurant's visible highway location and sound construction should have made it a quick sell.
"We're in a prime location for a restaurant and we've put so much money into this building," Bartlett said. "And they like the layout of it and everything. But when you tell them they can't serve drinks with their dinner, they end up going somewhere else."
It's not Bartlett's idea to set up a bar.
"We're not talking about people sitting in here and getting drunk," Bartlett said. "We're talking about a drink with dinner."
It's not like everyone in McLouth disapproves of alcohol, Bartlett said, adding:
"There are a lot of drinkers in McLouth -- and there's a church on every corner."
Phone calls made to two McLouth pastors were not returned.
Near McLouth in Tonganoxie and Oskaloosa, city ordinances regarding the sale of alcohol are a bit looser.
In Oskaloosa, said City Clerk Patty Hamm, in order to sell hard liquor, the property line of the business has to be at least 200 feet from the property line of a hospital, school or church. For cereal malt beverages, the distance must be at least 500 feet from a library, church or school.
In Tonganoxie, a business must be at least 200 feet from a hospital, school, church or library in order to sell liquor. However in recent years, two restaurants, Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse and Badd Jack's, have received permission to serve alcohol. That's because the city of Tonganoxie passed an ordinance that rules if a business within a restricted area serves food, they can sell alcoholic beverages.
Mary Beth and Jack Cronemeyer own the Circle S guest ranch near McLouth and Badd Jack's in Tonganoxie. There's no doubt, Mary Beth Cronemeyer said, that a liquor license is important to their businesses.
In talking about the guest ranch, Cronemeyer said, "We don't sell a lot of alcohol, but people just really like to have it with dinner and they even ask before they come."
Badd Jack's has offered beer and margaritas since opening two years ago. In mid-March the Cronemeyers added a bar in a room beside the restaurant's dining area. The bar, she noted, allows smoking, which the restaurant does not.
"Having the bar in the restaurant made business improve noticeably," Cronemeyer said.
In fact, she added, the restaurant's food business has increased since opening the bar.
While alcohol does make a profit, it also comes at a price. Cronemeyer said annual state liquor licenses can range from $1,000 to $3,000. The restaurants pay 10 percent tax on the liquor bought from a distributor. This differs from food and other supplies, which are tax-exempt. And, when alcoholic beverages are sold in the restaurant, a 10 percent tax must be collected.
McLouth was founded in 1882 and it's likely, according to the city clerk, that the town has always, essentially, been dry.
"As far as I know, there has never been any liquor sold in town," Edmonds said.
And so, at the homey McLouth restaurant that's complete with a red and white checkerboard floor, fried chicken that can't be beat, and restroom doors marked with roosters for him and hens for her, business percolates as usual.
If McLouth's history serves as a barometer to predict its future, if there were any wine glasses at Bartlett's restaurant -- or at any other business in town -- they'd probably be turned upside down.
And, as some locals might be quick to say, if they have their way, that's the way they'd stay.