Supermarket wine and beer sales still faces opposition at Capitol
February 8, 2008
DENVER – The fight between liquor stores and supermarkets over who should be allowed to sell beer and wine continues at the state Capitol despite the grocers’ efforts to reach out to independent store owners and craft brewers who oppose the idea.Supermarkets, which can only sell 3.2 percent alcohol beer now, say liquor stores have an unfair monopoly and shoppers deserve more options.But liquor stores say the move would benefit out-of-state corporations and hurt homegrown Colorado businesses that have been fostered by the liquor laws enacted after Prohibition. They’ve countered by backing a proposal to allow them to remain open on Sunday, something they’ve opposed in the past.After weeks of negotiations, Sen. Brandon Shaffer and Rep. Jack Pommer introduced a bill Thursday that that would allow supermarkets and other stores that sell food, including convenience stores and large retailers like Target and Wal-Mart, to apply for a license to sell beer and wine everyday except Sunday. Originally, the lawmakers had only looked at allowing supermarkets to apply but then more groups asked to be included in the bill, which should get its first hearing next week.Food stores would be allowed to only dedicate 5 percent of their space to selling beer and wine – about one aisle in a large supermarket. Liquor stores would be allowed to sell food in 5 percent of their store and would be able open up to two more locations.Currently, liquor license holders can only open one store each, which has fostered many small liquor stores across the state. Supermarkets can now operate a liquor store in just one of their locations in the state.The bill also would require that at least 20 percent of the wine and beer on food store shelves be “craft beers and boutique wines,” an effort to protect Colorado’s homegrown beer and vineyards. Liquor stores would continue to be the only outlets selling hard liquor.Eric Wallace, the founder and president of Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, still opposes the idea. On Friday he said Colorado doesn’t have enough inspectors to enforce the 20 percent rule and fears supermarkets would just end up mostly stocking mass-market brands. He said he was able to grow his business by meeting one-on-one with liquor store owners to talk about his beer but he doesn’t think large retailers with centralized buying will be as interested in new breweries or seasonal beers.”Something that doesn’t fly off the shelf isn’t going to be on the shelf,” he said.Many liquor stores have set up shop in the same shopping centers as supermarkets to latch onto the business they draw. However, Sean Duffy, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association, the supermarket trade group, said there’s no evidence in other states that liquor stores have been put out of business by supermarkets selling beer and wine. He said there’s no reason why Colorado can’t update its liquor laws to respond to the current economy.”It’s the same people who probably decried the loss of the horse and buggy and candle power,” Duffy said of bill opponents.Scott Chase, a lobbyist for liquor stores, said many liquor stores are owned by families who aren’t interested in opening another outlet, as the bill would allow. He believes the proposal would send revenue, taxes and jobs out of the state.”This bill has nothing to do with convenience. It has everything to do with large corporations wanting to change Colorado,” he said.