Storm brewing over sales of 'obsolete' 3.2 beer

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

David Parker, a Colorado Springs convenience store owner, is more than ready to see the last of Colorado’s Blue Laws dissolve.

Rep. Buffie McFadyen (left) listens to convience store owner Pam Ogden talk about the importance to her business that Colorado allow gas stations and grocery stores to sell full strength beer during a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday. In the foreground are 66,000 signed petitions of people who support the bill.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

 

Surrounded by a cadre of gas station managers and owners, primarily representing 7-Elevens and Loaf ‘N Jugs, Parker stood in front of 66,000 dramatically stacked signed petitions during a press conference in the Old Supreme Court Chambers hearing room at the state Capitol on Tuesday. The petitions, collected at 7-Eleven and Loaf ‘N Jug stores statewide, ask the Legislature to allow gas stations and grocery stores to sell full-strength beer.

Until last year, Colorado law prohibited liquor stores, which sell full-strength beer, from remaining open on Sundays. That had given an opening to convenience store owners, who are able to sell only lower strength 3.2 beer, permitting them a monopoly on liquor sales one day each week.

However, as soon as the Legislature passed a partial repeal of the state’s Blue Laws in 2008 allowing liquor stores to stay open and sell full-strength beer on Sundays, Parker says convenience stores such as his lost 75 to 80 percent of their Sunday beer sales. The storeowners say beer sales make up 6 percent of their total revenue.

Parker said now that 3.2 beer is obsolete, “The loss of sales has hurt us, and today we are only asking for the ability to compete.”

Parker could be in luck. If state Sen. Jennifer Viega, D-Denver, and Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, are successful, a bill they are moving through the Legislature this year would allow the sale of full-strength beer at convenience stores.

“I certainly recognize that, with the passage of Sunday sales (last year), there has been a detrimental impact on you, on your sales and to the grocery stores who are now selling an obsolete product,” Viega said to the room of storeowners. “Consumers want easy access (to products), and this allows for that.”

Not everyone is behind the change. Owners of liquor stores and craft breweries said allowing convenience and grocery stores to sell full-strength beer is paramount to putting another nail in their industry’s coffin. Although liquor store and brewery owners say the simple convenience of not having to make a special trip to a liquor store to buy full-strength beer seven days a week is of concern, they also expressed the fear that grocery stores will undercut the price of their liquor products as part of a rewards program for frequent shoppers.

Currently, King Soopers and Safeway discount gasoline to reward customers who reach a spending threshold.

“This legislation is not about convenience and fair competition, it’s about jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Jeanne McEvoy, executive director for the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association.

McEvoy said similar legislation in other states has had a devastating effect on liquor store owners, and she said South Dakota offers an example of how such a policy can destroy businesses and reduce employment opportunities statewide.

In South Dakota, 48 liquor stores were in business before similar legislation was passed. Within 10 years of the legislation’s passage, only three remained. She estimates that 700 liquor stores in Colorado would close within three years should the proposed law pass.

“If the state of Colorado has a problem with Sunday sales, then fix Sunday sales,” McEvoy said. “But robbing Peter to pay Paul is never good policy.”

However, the bill, which was introduced this week, may not have such a dire consequences for owners of Colorado’s liquor stores, supporters said.

Five states, including Colorado, still sell 3.2 percent beer while 36 states allow beer and wine sales in grocery stores, McFayden said, adding that those 36 states have found ways to make it work.

Jason@coloradostatesman.com