Wine in your grocery store? Doordash and supermarket chains want you to vote for it this fall

What will the fencing initiatives do?

Initiatives that allow wine to be sold in grocery stores and third-party deliveries are promoted by national grocery chains and food delivery companies. A case committee called Wine in Grocery Stores was formed to support both actions. DoorDash and Instacart each contributed over $400,000 to the effort. Target and Albertsons Safeway are supporters too, at over $24,000 each.

“Coloradans want comfort. “They want to choose,” said Sheila MacDonald, who represents the Wine in Grocery Stores committee. “They want Starbucks, deli, a Covid-booster, organic produce, and a specialty cheese section in the grocery store, along with beer and wine.”

On the flip side, liquor store owners worry that the changes could put them out of business.

“We just see by the prediction and how the model was set up … at least 800 to 1,000 of those stores go out of business,” says Chris Fine, executive director of the Licensed Beverage Association of Colorado. This would be more than half of all independent local liquor stores in Colorado.

In response, the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association supports a ballot initiative that would give local jurisdictions complete control over liquor licensing. This requires grocery stores wishing to sell wine or spirits to apply to local authorities to expand liquor licensing, “just as a retail liquor store does today,” Fine explains.

The process will include a public hearing, adherence to municipal laws and community considerations. Fine thinks local officials would be more reluctant to approve extended licenses that could put independent stores in their purview out of business.

The final initiative seeks to eliminate the distinction between retail liquor stores and licensed liquor pharmacies. Retail liquor stores are currently limited to two liquor licenses per business, a cap that is set to rise to four by 2027. Pharmacies licensed to sell liquor can currently have eight licenses per business, but after 2037 there will be no limit. This initiative is being pushed by large national liquor store chains that are looking to expand into Colorado. It is not supported by small independent liquor stores.

All four polling initiatives are in the process of collecting signatures. To qualify for the general election, initiatives need 124,632 valid signatures by August 8. The way the verification process works, campaigns need to collect tens of thousands more than the minimum to secure their place on the ballot.

History of Alcohol Laws in Colorado

Where, when and how to retail alcohol in Colorado has been a hot topic for more than a decade now, as various groups have pushed to open up previously restrictive state laws.

There are currently more than 1,600 local and independent liquor stores throughout the state, many of which are minority owned. The Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, which represents many of the state’s liquor stores, says 65 percent of its members use English as a secondary language and half are women.

“It’s usually a family business, they’ve got everything in and you see that all over the state,” Fine said.

In contrast, six major out-of-state chains dominate the Colorado grocery market — Walmart, Amazon-Whole Foods, Costco, Kroger-King Soopers, Target and Albertsons Safeway. All of these companies are involved in lobbying for grocers to be allowed to sell wine.

In 2008, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill that would allow liquor stores to open on Sundays, repealing Prohibition-era law. Before the change, the only alcohol that could be purchased on Sundays was 3.2 percent of beer from grocery or convenience stores.

For decades, chain companies were prohibited from selling full-strength beer by a law that prevented a retail liquor license holder from operating more than one store. But by 2016, grocery stores were pushing for change. They had a polling scale set for the fall before a “grand compromise” was reached between liquor stores and grocery stores with the help of former brewpub owner and then-governor John Hickenlooper. The complex deal allowed grocery chains to begin selling beer while introducing some changes in favor of liquor stores.

An attempt to strike another deal on alcohol sales in the legislature this year failed. A bipartisan bill that would have created a task force to study ways to update existing Colorado alcohol laws and build consensus on reform died in the Colorado Senate.

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