Craft Breweries, Liquor Stores Rally To Fight Grocery Store Beer Sales Initiative

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For the last few years, Colorado craft breweries and their allies at local liquor stores have worked on convincing state lawmakers to keep grocery and convenience stores from being allowed to sell full-strength beer, wine and booze. Now these small and medium-sized businesses are cracking open a consumer campaign in advance of a possible effort by the supermarket chains to take their case directly to voters in 2016.

Today a coalition of breweries and liquor store owners got together at Argonaut Liquors to talk about Keep Colorado Local, a campaign that is designed to preserve the current system – one that only allows companies to sell full-strength beer and wine at a single location (unless it is 3.2 beer, which can be sold at multiple locations). 

If chains like King Soopers and Safeway were allowed to sell beer, wine and spirits at each one of their stores instead, it could put 700 Colorado independent liquor stores out of business, said Carolyn Joy, whose family has owned Joy Liquors since 1963. “When huge, out-of-state corporations barge in our front door...Colorado shelf space will be dictated by” those corporations, added Joy, who employs twelve people. “The impact on small businesses like mine would be devastating.”

Michelle Reding, the co-owner of Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora, said her brewery was only able to grow as quickly as it did because of Colorado's current system. If Dry Dock had had to fight for shelf-space at supermarkets, it might not have been nearly as successful.

The brewers and liquor store owners believe that changing the system would endanger hundreds of small businesses, thousands of jobs and a piece of Colorado culture. And they formed Keep Colorado Local last year to combat an effort by a supermarket-led campaign and petition drive called Colorado Consumers for Choice that has been gathering steam and posting signs in groceries around Colorado.

Dan Haley, a spokesman for Colorado Consumers for Choice, says his group is looking at creating a ballot initiative that would go before voters in November 2016. The details of that initiative haven't been worked out, but it would likely push for full-strength beer and alcohol sales at grocery stores. Haley didn't want to say which chains were part of the coalition since it is still forming. But signs backing the initiative have appeared in both King Soopers and Safeway outlets.

Haley says that liquor stores and supermarkets could easily co-exist if the law were changed, pointing out that they do in many other states where there is also a strong brewery culture. “Liquor stores will still exist,” he says.

Changing the law would simply give consumers more of a choice – and more convenience, Haley continues. It would also modernize Colorado liquor laws, according to the campaign, which includes this cheeky wording: “Since 1933, Colorado has limited the sale of wine and real beer to liquor stores, restaurants and bars. Since 1933, we have invented soft-serve ice cream, rock-n-roll, space travel, the Internet and the cellphone, but you still can’t buy real beer or wine in a Colorado grocery store in Colorado.”

Haley says he believes the groceries would work hard to sell as much Colorado craft beer as they could.

The issue of full-strength sales in grocery stores has come up repeatedly over the past five years in the legislature. It has been voted down each time.

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