Colorado: Proposal on expanded Colorado alcohol sales has few immediate takers
Governor among those skeptical about legislative compromise, changing state liquor laws
Source: The Denver Post
By Joey Bunch
Colorado legislators hope to hammer out a deal to keep ballot initiatives in November to allow wine, full-strength beer and even spirits at grocery and major chain stores, but a compromise takes willing participants.
Among the doubters is Gov. John Hickenlooper, who might ultimately be asked to sign the bill into law.
“I’m generally in favor of the status quo,” Hickenlooper, the former brew-pub operator who takes the position the state’s craft brewers and liquor stores have taken. “I’m not sure it has to be addressed. … I’m not sure we need to change our regulatory framework to help big business at the expense of little business.”
The governor stopped short of saying he would veto the compromise effort, however.
“It depends on the bill,” he said. “Certainly I think it’s fair to say … I would be inclined to protect the status quo.”
The deal legislators have discussed would, in some form, involve allowing only one liquor license in a certain proximity. The current proposal is now 2,500 feet, and it comes with a sunset provision after which the restriction would no longer apply and all stores could sell what they want.
In the interim, existing liquor stores could sell their license to a larger retailer, or at least keep competition almost a half-mile away for the immediate future.
But for a compromise to work, partisans would have to agree to the deal. And as of this week – with less than three weeks left in the legislative session – the campaigns for and against expanded grocery and big-chain sales weren’t quick to jump on board.
Your Choice Coloradois pushing ahead to collect 98,492 signatures by August to get on the November ballot.
Your Choice member Kris Staaf, a spokeswoman for Safeway, said it’s too early to take a side, especially since the talked-about compromise hasn’t been unveiled in an actual piece of legislation.
“There have been so many proposals out there,” she said. “We want to keep the dialogue open and we appreciate the bill sponsors’ efforts, but we’re in a wait-and-see position right now.”
But doing nothing is not an option, if grocery stores continue to be forced to sell only low-strength 3.2 percent beer.
“We’re left with a product our customers no longer want to buy,” Staaf said. “And we’re in the business of selling products.”
On the other side, Keep Colorado Localsays that if major retailers sell more alcohol it will put small-business liquor stores out of business, costing hundreds, if not thousands, of local jobs to send money to out-of-state corporations.
The possibility of a sunset on the time in which store owners must sell their permits, or face unbridled competition in a few years, could suppress the price a liquor license might fetch.
“What the grocery stores are offering is a great risk to Colorado,” said Carolyn Joy, the owner of Joy’s Wine & Spirits, a 53-year-old family business in Denver.
She doesn’t see the concepts being worked on in the statehouse as a good deal for small businesses.
Sen. Pat Steadman, a Democrat from Denver who trying to craft the legislation, said the deal only works if all sides give some ground. Liquor stores would have a valuable license they could sell, but grocery and liquor companies that want more places for alcohol, have to be willing to drop their ballot initiatives.
Craft brew makers, who have sided with Keep Colorado Local, could get a guaranteed percentage of retailers’ shelf space, which could possibly increase their sales, Steadman said.
“Everyone has to be willing to give up something they want in order to gain something they want, that’s how a compromise works,” he said.
Spokeswoman Dede Laugesen said a group called Colorado Beer Drinkers isn’t taking a position on any of the proposed ballot initiatives, but to her, personally, a legislative compromise makes sense.
As a mother of small children, she’s frustrated by having to take her children into a liquor store when she picks up a bottle of wine or six-pack of higher-strength beer.
“We’re very happy to see the conversation continuing and legislators feeling like they can finally stop coddling the liquor store industry and move Colorado forward,” Laugesen said.