Colorado: Colorado liquor store owners join forces to pressure Hickenlooper into signing beer and wine compromise
Source: The Gazette
By: Megan Schrader
May 24, 2016
Gov. John Hickenlooper is being pressured to sign a bill that would slowly open Colorado’s liquor industry to chain stores hoping to hold multiple licenses.
The former brewpub owner turned full-time politician has been making the rounds peddling his new autobiography, but has indicated he has serious concerns with the bill.
Backers of the bill, namely hundreds of small liquor store owners who for years have operated under a state-mandated single-license rule, held a press conference Tuesday pressure the governor to sign the bill.
Related: The bizarre thing that happens when grocery stores can’t sell booze
Looming over the debate is a group of chain grocery stores gathering signatures to put a question on the November ballot that would change state law and allow them to buy multiple liquor licenses.
“It could be devastating to my business and many other businesses because I am sandwiched between Safeway and King Soopers,” said Caroline Joy, owner of Joy Wine and Spirits in Denver. “The initiative would give them license over all of Colorado law, so they would be the only ones allowed to have multiple licenses. They wouldn’t have to go through the wants and needs process which I had to do . and they would be able to sell anything they want.”
Senate Bill 197 has been called a grand compromise that would allow chain stores to gain multiple licenses over time.
It was enough to make a group of convenience stores agree to stop gathering signatures on a petition that would have opened the market for them. It also prompted a group of distillers to pull their proposed ballot questions, which would have allowed liquor sales in chain stores.
But Your Choice Colorado, a campaign funded by grocery stores, is still gathering signatures to ask voters in November if they want to be able to buy full-strength beer and wine in grocery stores.
“The Legislature had a chance to make real changes to benefit Colorado consumers and give them the choices they want and deserve: real beer and wine in grocery stores,” said Georgie Aguirre-Sacasa, campaign manager for the grocers. “But instead of fixing an antiquated law, the Legislature failed Colorado consumers, jamming together a last-minute bill that masquerades as a compromise.”
If Hickenlooper signs Senate Bill 197 it will begin a long, complex process to increased availability of alcohol products.
Starting in 2017, a chain store could get five liquor licenses, but first it must buy out any existing liquor stores within 1,500 feet of the store seeking the license. If there are no stores in that radius, the chain store must buy at least two licenses from liquor stores in the jurisdiction in which it resides.
By 2037 the stores could have an unlimited number of liquor licenses.
Hickenlooper has repeatedly said thousands of well-paying jobs are on the line and that he favors the status quo.
Also the beer industry, including those who run the businesses Hickenlooper stepped away from when he became governor, are only neutral on the bill.
There’s a fear that it’ll be harder for small brewers and distillers to get their products on the shelves of mega-chain stores than the mom-and-pop businesses that rule the Colorado market.
“You see all the people standing behind me today saying we think Senate Bill 197 is a better way of creating these changes of the law and allowing more competition in the retail liquor sales marketplace than going to the ballot and creating a situation where we go through an expensive campaign and ask voters to pick a winner, and by necessity, pick a loser,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.
He was accompanied by Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Rep. Dan Nordberg, R-Colorado Springs, who sponsored the bill in the House. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate, 31-4, and the Democrat-controlled House, 57-7.
Steadman said he doesn’t know what else they could have done to make the bill more appealing to more people.