A bill in the Colorado Legislature failed this week — as similar measures have the past few years — to make it legal for all convenience and grocery stores to sell full-strength beer.
We wouldn’t say we’re drunk with joy over the bill’s demise, but we are convinced it was the right decision for Colorado.
It’s true that having full-strength beer available for sale at every gas station and grocery store in the state would make it marginally more convenient for beer buyers to grab a six-pack. They might even find major brands were a little cheaper. But we see no evidence that those same beer folks are having trouble acquiring their favorite beverage under the current system of locally owned and operated liquor stores.
What would have changed, if House Bill 1284 had become law, is that many Mom-and-Pop liquor stores would have closed, unable to compete with large retailers for whom beer sales would be a small part of their business, not the primary profit producer.
The competition for the locally owned stores would have been, in many cases, chain stores with out-of-state ownership. And, while bill sponsor Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, claimed HB 1284 would have created more jobs at large stores, those jobs would have come at the expense of jobs in smaller liquor stores and in local ownership of those stores.
Furthermore, as Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, noted, this wasn’t really a free-market issue. Alcohol is perhaps the most regulated product sold to the general public. Federal and state law dictates who can produce alcohol, where it may be sold, to whom and by whom and during what hours of the day it may be sold. Unlike, say, peaches or sweet corn, we don’t allow anyone with a still or a storefront to sell alcohol.
The ultimate goal of big-box stores appears to be to sell all forms of alcohol in Colorado — from beer to wine to hard liquor — as they do in many other states. We don’t believe they’ll abandon that effort just because Liston’s bill failed this year.
But allowing sales of all alcohol products at large chain stores would not only harm the locally owned liquor stores, it would hurt Colorado’s microbreweries and small wineries as well. The big stores tend to carry primarily national products that they can purchase in large quantities, with perhaps a token few local brands on the shelves.
Since the end of Prohibition, Colorado has handled liquor sales in much the same way as it does now, depending on individually owned stores to serve as the retail outlets. Other than from representatives of the chains and convenience stores, we don’t hear any clamor from the public to change it, no grassroots consumer movement demanding beer, wine and distilled spirits be available in their grocery stores or much lamenting the death of HB 1284.