Grocery stores excited to add wine to shelves as independent liquor stores prepare for worst case |

Grocery stores excited to add wine to shelves as independent liquor stores prepare for worst case

On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, Proposition 125 brought wine to grocery and convenience stores in Colorado. The measure passed with 50.6% approval statewide with much of its support coming from Front Range communities.
City Market Corporate Affairs/Courtesy photo

In November, Colorado voters narrowly passed Proposition 125, allowing customers to pick up a bottle of wine at local grocery stores, and as the new law took effect Wednesday, March 1, independent liquor stores were bracing for the impact.

The decision to allow wine in grocery and convenience stores was approved by 50.6% of Colorado voters, while other voters and many owners of mom and pop liquor stores were concerned about the disruption the change could bring to their communities and businesses.

As Proposition 125 became a reality, reactions ranged from those who were excited, like City Market spokesperson Jessica Trowbridge, to local independent liquor store owners who want to wait and see what will happen, to those who feel independently owned liquor stores will never be able to compete against cooperate giants like Kroger, Walmart, Safeway and its parent company Albertsons.

“We are very excited to be adding wine to our shelves today, and providing what our customers have told us — that what they want is wine on our shelves,” said Trowbridge, corporate affairs manager for City Market. “They wanted that one-stop shopping experience.”

Trowbridge said Kroger now has 138 locations in Colorado that added wine to their shelves and five others that have a license to sell beer, wine and spirits. Grocery and convenience stores have been allowed to sell full-strength beer since 2019.

Trowbridge said the wines offered at the City Market stores will vary from location to location, but the goal is to grow the areas in all the stores to include between 1,000 and 1,500 different items that customers may purchase.

While representatives of City Market, Safeway and Walmart are excited to offer their customers the convenience of one-stop shopping, many smaller, locally owned liquor stores are still coming to grips with the change.

“Of course, it will have an impact. We are turning over middle America and people’s own businesses to the corporations,” said Rick Pighini, owner of West End Liquor. “They have all the buying power. The whole liquor industry is set up so if you buy 100 cases, it’s cheaper. There is nothing we can do, and hopefully, the people in our town will continue to support us.”

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Chris Fine, executive director of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said that while Proposition 125 may make getting wine more convenient for shoppers, he believes it will have a negative effect on communities like Steamboat Springs.

“It’s not about the poor liquor store. It’s really about Colorado businesses,” Fine said. “Out of the close to 1,600 — I believe that last count I had was about 1,560 independent liquor stores — we see a third to a quarter of those being in jeopardy of losing their business. I think that’s fairly conservative.”

On Wednesday, Greg Nealy, one of the owners of Central Park Liquor, said his store has already started preparing for the impacts of Proposition 125 and called it “Black Wednesday” across the state for local independent liquor stores.

He said Central Park Liquor is currently scrambling to restructure its whole business and trying to figure out how to survive in the wake of Proposition 125.

“It’s going to be monster. They’re estimating that in the state independent liquor stores will have a loss of 20% to 30% of their overall gross sales,” Nealy said. “It’s going to put a tremendous amount of people out of business.”

He explained that Central Park Liquor was able to adjust three years ago when full-strength beer sales were allowed in grocery stores, but this time around, it’s going to be even tougher.

“We took a huge hit on our bottomline (when grocery stores were allowed to start selling full-strength beer), and it’s been a real struggle for us to get that business back. We shrunk our beer capacity down and went way heavy into wine and the liquor side of the business,” Nealy said. “Wine is about 40% of our total business, so yeah, it’s going to have a huge effect.”

Central Park Liquor is hoping to survive with the things he said a grocery store can’t put on the shelves including knowledge, experience and encouraging residents to support locally owned businesses that are connected to the community.

Nealy said Central Park Liquor also offers top-of-the-line customer service and an experience that customers are not going to find at grocery stores. He also said Central Park Liquor also has a strong wedding and catering side of the business.

“My wine staff has over 100 years of wine experience, so we’re going to just push the knowledge aspect for our customers,” Nealy said. “Our customer service is going to be unmatched … and we’re going to stress that to the locals, that we’re going to carry that forward and do everything we can to take care of our local community. If the local community supports us, we’re going to support them and we’re going to make that a huge factor.”

He said the Steamboat Springs business has a long-running tradition of supporting local teams, local causes and the locals who call the town home, and he hopes locals will continue to support the business.

“There’s a lot of stores that will persevere simply because they do offer wines, expertise, customer service and a selection that the grocers will never offer,” Fine said. “However, I fear for the small mom and pop store where normally it’s a family who’s kind of gone all-in on this one little store. Those are the ones that I’m really fearful for.”

Fine said the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association was outspent last year by a 32-to-1 ratio but ended up defeating two of the three propositions the organization opposed.

He said Proposition 125 narrowly passed by just 28,000 votes and was mainly supported by the Front Range communities. In Routt County, Proposition 125 was defeated 55.5% to 44.5%, and 47 of Colorado’s 64 counties voted against it.

“What that tells me is that Colorado citizens, especially those in Routt County and along the Western Slope, weren’t asking for this,” Fine said. “The groceries claimed that it’s a convenience, but no one was asking for this. This was simply these out-of-state corporations coming in to dramatically alter Colorado liquor law.”

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