125-year ban ends; liquor store opens

OVERBROOK — Scratch Overbrook off the state's short list of "dry" towns.

Scott Bronoski unlocked the doors of a former garage this week, plugged in a new computer system and welcomed more than a dozen guys to stock shelves, post prices and otherwise handle details that come with lifting the nearly 125-year-old community's lifelong prohibition on packaged liquor sales.

Overbrook Spirits is open for business.

"Everybody said we couldn't, just couldn't, get it done, that it wouldn't happen," said Bronoski, who lives in Lawrence. "I don't care about the money. This is more to prove a point."

Bronoski, who farms land and raises cattle on land southwest of Clinton Lake, invested $50,000 in a former car lot along U.S. Highway 56, then dropped $30,000 to $40,000 on inventory: cases of beer, bottles of champagne and seemingly countless varieties of hard liquor that normally would have been out of reach for Overbrook's 950 residents and their rural neighbors.

No more need to cruise to Carbondale, bolt to Baldwin City or trek to Topeka for packaged liquor. Overbrook is about 18 miles southwest of Lawrence.

"It's a good feeling," said Mike Gowin, eyeing a bottle of Gentleman Jack before heading to his residence just south of Overbrook. "You can get into town and get back home without running around for half the day."

Bronoski's business venture required persistence. Overbrook had been among only five communities statewide — Moundridge, Parkerfield, Hesston and North Newton are the others — to approve laws maintaining their prohibitions on selling packaged liquor.

That changed after Bronoski led a petition drive, leading to a public vote this past November that resulted in 222 votes for repealing the prohibition against 160 in favor of keeping it. The Overbrook City Council then repealed its law, giving Bronoski about 30 days to get his place renovated in time to launch operations for New Year's, one of the biggest sales weekends of the year.

"It's a good time to open," said Tom Groneman, director of Kansas' Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Overbrook Spirits now joins another 750 such stores statewide, ones that together generate sales of more than $685 million a year.

"It's part of what society today just views as a standard and normal business in a community," Mayor Don Schultz said.

Bronoski is counting on Overbrook residents shopping on their way back from work, people from nearby towns escaping judgmental glances back home, and recreational visitors loading up on their way out to Pomona Lake.

That's the business plan, anyway, for absorbing as much revenue as possible within a formerly dry town.

"I did this as a fun thing, more or less," Bronoski said. "Now it's stressing me out."