Frisco’s Whole Foods Market withdraws liquor license application, defusing tensions with local businesses
July 12, 2018
The Town of Frisco was briefly a battlefield in the retail war between Colorado's independent liquor stores and grocery chains over the ability to sell full-strength beer, wines and spirits. However, the scrap ended peacefully on Thursday when the Whole Foods Market in Frisco withdrew its application to sell 3.2 percent beer amid opposition from local residents and businesses.
The debate in town was whether Whole Foods should be granted a license to sell 3.2 percent alcohol or "low-point" beer at the Lusher Court location. New liquor laws in Colorado going into effect on January 1 will convert all existing low-point alcohol licenses to full-strength licenses, meaning Whole Foods would have become a direct competitor to Basecamp Wines and Spirits store right next door.
By racing to get the license before the new law takes effect, Whole Foods would have also been grandfathered against the law's new distance requirement, one meant to protect existing liquor stores from unfair competition. Starting next year, in towns of less than 10,000 residents like Frisco, no new licenses will be granted to grocery stores or convenience stores if they are within 3,000 feet of an existing liquor retailer.
On Tuesday, in front of a packed house and after hours of arguments, Frisco's town council decided to delay its decision on whether to approve Whole Foods' application to sell 3.2 percent beer. A couple dozen citizens offered comment opposing the application, while representatives from Whole Foods argued the legal case for granting it.
Ryan Geller, one of the owners of Basecamp Wine and Spirits and one of the most vocal opponents at the meeting, said he was very much against granting Whole Foods a beer license. One of his grievances was that Whole Foods' original business plan did not include selling beer or liquor. He claimed they were only interested in selling beer a few days before the state's final deadline for 3.2 percent beer license applications.
"We wouldn't have built a store at this location if we knew Whole Foods would be selling beer and liquor too," Geller said, pointing out that the only thing separating his store from Whole Foods was a concrete wall. "It was not in the original lease for the property, so that's a legal issue itself."
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Geller said that aside from the private dispute with Whole Foods, he was also concerned about the impact on Frisco's other businesses and residents. Colorado law requires local liquor license boards to consider whether there is an "undue concentration" of licenses in an area to avoid nuisance and public safety issues, and whether there is any need or desire in the area for the product being offered, in this case, low-point beer.
"This is very much about the community and what it wants and needs," Geller said, pointing out that several retailers in the immediate vicinity, including Safeway, Walmart and the Conoco gas station, already have licenses for low-point beer that will convert to full licenses in a few months. Aside from that, Geller said, the town has to consider the specific desire or need for 3.2 percent beer in the community.
"Do you think anybody in Colorado is walking into a Whole Foods asking specifically for 3.2 beer?" Geller asked. "It's not something the town is asking for or needing."
Jeanne McAvoy, president and CEO of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, an independent liquor retailer lobbying group, said that she was also very concerned about the broader problem of big national chains like Whole Foods pushing out local businesses.
"It's very important to keep Colorado businesses in business," McAvoy said. "Whole Foods is not going to go out of business if they can't sell 3.2 beer, but small businesses will when the big grocery chains sells full-strength beer and liquor next year."
The Summit Daily reached out to Whole Foods for comment Thursday morning, but did not receive a response at press time.
However, the Town of Frisco announced that Whole Foods had withdrawn their license application late Thursday afternoon. No reasoning for the withdrawal was immediately known. With the deadline for applying for a 3.2 percent license having passed, there will be no new application and the Whole Foods at Lusher Court will probably never sell full-strength beer or wine.
"I'm in shock," Geller reacted ecstatically when told of the development. "But I think Whole Foods did the right thing, and I have a lot of respect for them. I think they saw the impact it would have on local businesses, and considered the community response, and thought they were better off without the license. I think their decision was based on the morality of it and not a business decision. Kudos to them."
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