Summit liquor stores brace for new competition with grocery stores, gas stations switching to full-strength beer sales
Christmas wrapping paper still covering cooler doors at 7-Elevens in Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne will come down Jan. 1 when the state starts allowing them to sell full-strength beer for the first time.
By law, grocery and convenience stores and big-box retailers in Colorado had been limited to peddling only beer that’s 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or 4 percent by volume while the full-strength brews — typically ranging from 6-13 percent alcohol — were reserved for sale at liquor stores.
But Colorado lawmakers decided to loosen the Prohibition-era rules creating the two-tiered system for in-state beer sales in 2016, and the series of changes they came up with is set to take effect today.
Many consumers see the shift as a step forward in Colorado, but not everyone is toasting the move. It has broad implications for the state and Summit County, where gas stations, grocery stores and big-box retailers are gearing up for full-strength beer sales as local liquor stores are bracing for heightened competition.
Much of this stems from a grandfathering clause in the new rules giving businesses with existing beer licenses the ability to sell full-strength beer starting Jan 1.
In Frisco, Safeway and Walmart both already have licenses to sell 3.2 percent beer. The City Markets in Breckenridge and Dillon are no different, and neither is Target in Silverthorne. All are shifting to full-strength beer.
Many local gas stations and convenience stores — like the 7-Eleven, Exxon and Conoco in Frisco — also have existing licenses and will be making the change as well. While 7-Eleven was somewhat ambiguous with wrapping paper covering the stores’ beer coolers, Exxon wasn’t quite so cryptic.
“We are expanding our beer selections at the start of the new year,” read a sign taped to the doors on Exxon’s beverage cooler.
Not to be left out, one gas station in Silverthorne that didn’t previously sell beer raced out to secure the proper licensing to do so in October, knowing that the store would be grandfathered into the new rules when they go into effect.
“Our whole goal is to work with the community, try to increase sales for us and increase revenue for the town as well,” said Mike Bass, a company representative, as he addressed Silverthorne Town Council during a public hearing regarding the Stinker store’s application for a beer license.
The Whole Foods Market in Frisco tried to do the same thing earlier this summer but wasn’t successful. The grocery store in Frisco filed for a new beer license earlier this year, but the store ultimately withdrew its application amid protests from local residents and other business owners, including one nearby liquor store.
At the time the Stinker station was going for its beer license, the owners of two other Silverthorne liquor stores sought to derail the gas station’s plan.
Citing existing beer sales at over a half-dozen businesses in town already, Chris Carran, who runs Locals Liquors, asked Silverthorne’s elected officials to consider if the town really needs another outlet for beer.
“This is our livelihood,” Carran said. “We sell liquor; we sell beer; we sell wine, and other than some food, that’s all we sell.”
Because she and her workers depend on the liquor store for their survival, locally owned liquor stores have stronger controls to prevent underage sales, give more back to the community than national chains do and offer better customer service, Carran added.
She also doesn’t think the town will see any increase in beer sales by moving full-strength beer into the gas stations and big-box retailers. Instead, she contended that the sales will be further divided among the businesses, a prediction that was seconded by the another owner of a local liquor store.
On Monday, Carran said that while the shift in Colorado beer sales will likely affect her business, she’s not exactly sure how everything will play out just yet.
She’s keeping her hopes up and banking that, with a strong community following, Locals Liquors’ heightened customer service and larger selection of beer, spirits and wines will help limit any losses in her business.
Additionally, a lot of what happens at the store will depend on how its distributors handle pricing going forward, she said.
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