Proposal dampens spirits at liquor stores

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Letting groceries sell full-strength beer will hurt independents, they say

By Vicky Gits

After losing last year’s bid to sell beer and wine, supermarkets and convenience stores are putting their efforts behind legislation to let them sell full-strength beer.

The movement has caused alarm among liquor store owners such as Chris Risley of Coconuts liquor store, next to the Bergen Park King Soopers. Risley says the supermarkets want to drive the liquor stores out of business.

“We know what they are after. We have been fighting this for years,” Risley said.

The first blow came when the legislature passed a law that allowed liquor sales on Sundays. That law took effect in July.

“All it did was take away from Saturday’s business,” Risley said.

He also believes that underage buyers will have an easier time procuring full-strength beer in supermarkets.

“If you are independently owned, you have more control over kids not getting beer. It would be easier to access beer from King Soopers than from a liquor store,” Risley said.

Risley’s store is about 4,000 square feet and is well stocked with a selection of wines, including South American wines. About three-quarters of the stock appears to be wine, which explains why wine is his best-selling product. The next biggest categories are regular, or 4 percent, beer and spirits.

State Sen. Jennifer Veiga of Denver and state Rep. Buffie McFayden of Pueblo are expected to introduce legislation this month to liberalize the liquor laws.

Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, newly elected GOP representative in House District 25, said the law allowing liquor stores to open their doors on Sundays was the most significant liquor legislation since 1933.

Allowing regular, or 4 percent, beer in grocery stores “will impact small businesses, large grocery stores and Colorado burgeoning craft beer distillers,” said Gerou, who has not yet taken a position.

Sean Duffy, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Food Industry, a trade association for grocery and convenience stores, said supermarkets should have the right to sell full-strength beer.

“The real crisis is the fact you have a strong drop in an important product line. They feel they have to fix it this year,” Duffy said.

Supermarkets are capable of policing beer sales to minors, Duffy said.

“If you pick up a six-pack, the cash register shuts down until my birth date is entered. I have never been to a liquor store like that.”

“(Liquor stores) want to dictate to consumers where they can shop for beer. There’s no public policy reason to do that. People do that all the time. “

He said Safeway has solicited thousands of signatures in favor of full-strength beer sales.

The question is whether independent liquor stores can survive if supermarkets start selling the mainstay beers like Bud, Coors and Miller that make up 60 percent of the revenue, said Jeanne McEvoy, a spokeswoman for the independents.

“One of the things that concerns us is when you put full-strength beer in a grocery store, that teenagers will have more access to the product,” McEvoy said. “To sell full-strength in a liquor store, you have to be 21; it’s only 18 for 3.2 beer. It’s our understanding they are not going to change that.

“Who’s going to monitor and supervise the young people?” McEvoy said. “We don’t think it’s a good idea for 16-year-old kids to work with beer. It’s just too much temptation.”

“Liquor stores will lose their No. 1 product. It’s like taking gasoline away from the convenience store,” she said.

When Rapid City, S.D., changed the law to allow supermarket beer sales, the city went from 38 independently owned stores to three in just two years, McEvoy said.