Beer Man

King Soopers may be the best worst thing to happen to Denver boozers in a while

King Soopers didn't merely open a liquor store inside its massive new grocery at Leetsdale Drive and South Cherry Street yesterday. It declared war.

War on other liquor stores, big and small, in central Denver, war on SuperTarget, war on all the political and business interests that have kept the grocery chains from being able to sell beer, wine and alcohol from more than one location in the state.

More than just a liquor aisle, the lovely looking 10,000-square-foot store has its own separate entrance, a walk-in cooler for bulk beer buying, a tasting area, a fireplace (yes, a fireplace) and a full lineup of liquor, wine and beer, including high-end bottles and dozens and dozens of craft brew six-packs, bombers and singles.

The spot is the grocery chain's first and only location in the state that sells booze. Right now, Colorado laws allow business entities to own only one liquor license, which means that each of the major chains has to choose where its wants to sell anything stronger than 3.2 beer. Safeway uses its liquor license on Mineral Road in Littleton while Target sells alcohol at its Glendale store, just blocks from King Soopers.

And because of its wide selection, especially when it comes to craft beers made by Colorado breweries, it could also be a public-relations boost when King Soopers and its fellow grocery corporations ask the legislature -- as they have for three years running -- to change the laws and allow them to sell alcohol at every one of their outlets.

King Soopers spokeswoman Kelli McGannon wasn't available for comment Wednesday afternoon, but she said earlier in the week that it's too difficult to predict whether Colorado's laws will change and what the chain's beer selection would look like in the future. "We use the demographic data for each store to make sure we are providing the selection they want," she said.

But a manager at Colorado Liquor Mart, which is located nearby at 865 South Colorado Boulevard, says it would be a mistake to allow the supermarkets to carry booze.

"Chain markets are job killers," he says. "And over time, the consumer loses too because the selection gets cut. It would be cut by as much as two thirds."

The manager, who asked not to be named, says he believes that his store and Grapevine Wine and Liquors, 900 South Monaco Parkway, will likely be hit the hardest by the opening of the new King Soopers. Ironically, both are located next to smaller King Soopers stores that will likely also lose business to their larger brother.

But he believes that most other central Denver liquor stores, including Argonaut, will feel the effects as well - at least at first. "History tells us that that store will do very well. But they won't staff it with anyone with any real knowledge, so that will change," he says. "Convenience drives people. But we we are a specialty store. We have five sommeliers on staff and pros tracking down little eclectic products."

After about six months, he believe sales will improve again as customers return.

Yesterday's grand opening of the King Soopers at 4600 Leetsdale came complete with free samples, coffee and donuts and sports mascot appearances.

Of course, there were also massive traffic jams in the parking lot -- which appears to be too small -- and inside the grocery itself; the employees walked around looking dazed by the madhouse of customers who converged on the store throughout the day.

The location also offers a large Kosher section, a Starbucks, wide aisles, a salad bar, a Mediterranean bar and, wait for it, a chicken bar! Yep. There is a salad bar-style lineup of chicken: fried, wings, nuggets, the whole deal. (Note: chicken bar is cool).

The site is a long-vacant Cub Foods that King Soopers bought four years ago. It is about 75,000 square feet and is the first new King Soopers to open in the Denver metro area in about a eighteen months.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes