Town halls, store tours offer insight
by Eric Pereira / Content Creator
The Kentucky Grocers and Convenience Store Association has been aiming to connect more state and federal legislators with retailers so they can learn more of their daily challenges. This has included store tours and town hall meetings.
“Just so they can get a feel and a better understanding of some of the issues that grocers face, and how some of the regulations and laws that are proposed would impact those things,” said Steve McClain, director of communications and public affairs at KGCSA.
McClain said there were plans of pursuing this initiative prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic helped move the conversations forward.
At ValuMarket in Louisville, Kentucky, six state legislators recently learned how the store handled its battles with COVID-19, particularly on supply issues.
“It was good that they were able to kind of see firsthand and hear firsthand how the whole pandemic created a run on products…(also) how they’ve tried to take care of their employees, reward them for working through the pandemic, but also some other issues that are kind of on the horizon as well,” McClain said.
KGCSA also held a town hall meeting in August at a grocery store with one of Kentucky’s congressmen, Brett Guthrie. The event gave six retailers an opportunity to express their concerns in the industry.
McClain said Guthrie’s reaction to the event was well received.
“It was good that he was able to hear, ‘These are the issues and this is what we need at the federal and the state levels to try to help with [them],’” McClain said.
He added that they are planning to hold more of these town hall sessions in different parts of the state before the January legislative session convenes.
“We’re trying to match these visits with people in their district, so they’re not just hearing from the association, but they’re seeing a constituent when they’re going into the store. They’re hearing from people that actually can vote for them or not vote for them,” McClain said.
The two primary concerns for KGCSA members, according to McClain, are getting enough product in the stores and finding workers.
With labor in the trucking industry playing a critical role, one of the suggested ideas at these meetings was lowering the commercial driver’s license age to 18.
In regard to the 2021 legislative session, McClain said a limited liability bill was passed related to COVID safety measures.
Some victories for the association revolved more around stopping bills that would have been harmful to the membership.
Two bills were filed that he said would have given control over the sale and display of tobacco products to local governments. However, McClain expects those bills to return.
“Basically, a local city or a county government could set their own rules on the sale and display of tobacco and kind of the concern was with that would be that they could, over time, implement their own taxes on tobacco (and vape) sales,” McClain said.
In 2022, McClain does see discussions returning in regard to wine sales in grocery stores, which are currently prohibited in the state. He said grocers have been pushing for this for a long time.
As far the ongoing pandemic, news outlets report an increase in Kentucky COVID-19 patients. McClain said the association is monitoring the situation.
“We’ve been watching things closely here over the last month and a half as our numbers in Kentucky have gone up,” he said. “We have seen some of our stores putting in mask policies again for employees and urging customers if they’re not vaccinated to wear a mask.”
In other news, the KGCSA Education Foundation recently awarded 14 scholarships to high school and college students this year.
The association plans to hold its annual meeting in the fall, with the dates and other details to be announced later.