‘This will decimate the craft beverage industry,’ local liquor store owner says; Soon, Colorado voters will decide if they can buy Chardonnay with their gas and groceries

Luke Vidic
Summit Daily

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a misidentified ballot initiative.

trio of ballot measures slated for this November could increase the accessibility of alcohol to shoppers in Colorado.

If passed by voters, ballot initiatives 121, 122 and 124 would, respectively, allow grocery stores and gas stations with beer licenses to sell wine starting March 1, allow third party distributors to deliver alcohol to homes and allow retail liquor chains to open more than one location, gradually increasing until an unlimited number of liquor licenses are allowed per retailer in 2037.

Initiative 124 aims to “to create a more level playing field” among alcohol sellers, according to its language, but a Summit County local liquor store owner feels otherwise.

Locals Liquors owner and Silverthorne Town Councilor Chris Carran said small liquor stores like hers will only be hurt by the ballot measures along with craft breweries and those without the means to go toe to toe — or dollar for dollar — with the big guys. When asked why the ballot measures came forward at all, she said it for a simple reason.

“Money. It’s completely a corporate money grab,” Carran said. DoorDash, InstaCart, Target, Albertsons Safeway and Kroger have put millions into campaigning for the selling of wine in grocery stores. Coloradans for Consumer Choice and Retail Fairness has similarly raised millions to campaign for increased liquor licenses per entity, thanks to the financial backing of Maryland Rep. David Trone and his brother, both of whom own Total Wine & More, a retail liquor company.

If grocery stores like City Market are permitted to sell wine, businesses with more buying power can box out local liquor stores, Carran said. As part of the compromise that allowed grocery stores to sell full strength beer, prospective beer retailers would need to buy all liquor licenses within a certain distance from their store. That was done to give existing retailers a say in whether grocers could sell beer. If a current liquor-license holder didn’t want to sell their license, there’d be no license for the grocery store next door, effectively.

The proposed ballot measure would eliminate that safeguard, Carran said.

“All of a sudden, Target gets wine,”  she said. Neither local municipalities or liquor stores would have a say, since old licenses would simply update and become eligible to sell wine, she said.

“This will decimate the craft beverage industry,” Carran said. Grocery stores often have less shelf space than a dedicated liquor store, she said. With less shelf space in higher demand, major distributors like Annhauser-Busche can negotiate with “the Krogers of the world” on the national level to grab more shelf space — a fight most craft beers can’t enter, Carran said. Those smaller companies may have to settle for selling a smaller lineup of beers, or none at all.

If independent liquor stores start going out of business, the little guys won’t have a place for distribution, she said.

Residents and visitors alike expressed mixed opinions on the measure. Most of those asked said they’d appreciate the convenience, but a few said they’d worry about the survival of local liquor stores.

“If you go grocery shopping and you’re planning on making dinner, then you’re going to make a separate trip to grab a bottle of wine,” Silverthorne resident Eric Cauzone said. Allowing grocery stores to sell wine would make shopping more convenient, he said.

“Everyone thinks it’s going to be convenient,” Carran said. “But that’s the only thing it’ll be — convenient for a small group of people.”

Ballot initiative 124 would open the door for more retail liquor chains in Summit County. Carran said that initiative would also favor bigger retail chains with more capital, further suffocating local sellers.

“It’d be almost impossible for me to open a second store,” Carran said.

A fourth ballot initiative might have been able to prevent some of those issues presented by Carran, but Carran said the initiative was shut down due to uncontested lobbying by interest groups.

The initiative would’ve required local approval before updated licenses with wine-authorization could be issued, but the liquor stores who were pushing it didn’t have the capital to push it through, Carran claimed.

The ability for third party distributors to deliver alcohol also poses a threat in Carran’s eyes. She said it could open the door to more underage drinking and undermine her and other stores’ rigorous standards.

Delivery services would need to receive a permit from the state, according to the ballot measure, and disciplinary actions for infractions would remain the same as for alcohol licenses.

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