“It’s going to decimate the craft beverage industry,” says local liquor store owner; Soon, Colorado voters will decide if they can buy Chardonnay with their gas and groceries
A trio of ballot measures scheduled for this November could increase the accessibility of alcohol to Colorado shoppers.
If passed by voters, Ballot Initiatives 121, 122 and 96 would respectively allow beer-licensed grocery stores and gas stations to sell wine beginning March 1, allow third-party distributors to deliver door-to-door liquor and allow liquor retail chains to open more than one location, gradually increasing until an unlimited number of liquor licenses are allowed per retailer in 2037.
Initiative 96 aims to “create a fairer level playing field” among liquor vendors, according to its language, but a local Summit County liquor store owner thinks otherwise.
Locals Liquors owner and Silverthorne Councilman Chris Carran said small liquor stores like his would only be affected by the ballot measures, along with craft breweries and those who cannot afford to go hand in hand – or dollar for dollar – with the big guys. When asked why the ballot measures were introduced, she said so for one simple reason.
“Money. It’s completely a drain on corporate money,” Carran said. DoorDash, InstaCart, Target, Albertsons Safeway and Kroger have poured millions into campaigns to sell wine in grocery stores. Coloradans for Consumer Choice and Retail Fairness has also raised millions to campaign for increased entity liquor licensing, thanks to financial support from Maryland Rep. David Trone and his brother, who both own Total Wine & More, a liquor retail.
If grocery stores like City Market are allowed to sell wine, companies with more buying power can exclude local liquor stores, Carran said. As part of the compromise that allowed grocery stores to sell pure beer, future beer retailers would have to purchase all liquor licenses within a certain distance of their store. This was done to give existing retailers a say in whether grocers could sell beer. If a current liquor licensee did not want to sell their license, there would effectively be no license for the grocery store next door.
The proposed ballot measure would eliminate that guarantee, Carran said.
“All of a sudden Target is getting wine,” she said. Neither local municipalities nor liquor stores would have a say, as old licenses would simply be updated and become eligible to sell wine, she said.
“It’s going to decimate the craft beverage industry,” Carran said. Grocery stores often have less shelf space than a dedicated liquor store, she said. With less shelf space and higher demand, big distributors like Annhauser-Busche can negotiate with “the Krogers of the world” domestically to gain more shelf space – a struggle that most beers crafts cannot enter, Carran said. These smaller companies may have to settle for selling a smaller range of beers, or none at all.
If independent liquor stores start shutting down, the little guys won’t have room for distribution, she said.
Residents and visitors expressed mixed opinions on the measure. Most respondents said they would appreciate the convenience, but a few said they would worry about the survival of local liquor stores.
“If you’re grocery shopping and planning to cook dinner, you’ll make a separate trip to pick up a bottle of wine,” said Silverthorne resident Eric Cauzone. Allowing grocery stores to sell wine would make shopping more convenient, he said.
“Everyone thinks it’s going to be convenient,” Carran said. “But that’s the only thing it will be – convenient for a small group of people.”
The Ballot 96 initiative would open the door to more liquor retail chains in Summit County. Carran said the move would also favor larger retail chains with more capital, further stifling local sellers.
“It would be next to impossible for me to open a second store,” Carran said.
A fourth ballot initiative could have prevented some of the problems presented by Carran, but Carran said the initiative was halted due to unchallenged lobbying by interest groups.
The initiative would have required local approval before updated licenses with wine authorization could be issued, but the liquor stores pushing it lacked the capital to push it through, Carran claimed.
The ability of third-party distributors to deliver alcohol also poses a threat to Carran. She said it could open the door to more underage drinking and undermine her rigorous standards and those of other stores.
Delivery services would have to be licensed by the state, according to the ballot measure, and disciplinary action for violations would remain the same as for liquor licenses.