Panel OKs bill letting stores buy liquor licenses

DENVER — A measure to allow grocery stores to purchase the license of a nearby liquor store barely cleared a House panel Wednesday.

The House Business Affairs & Labor Committee approved the measure on a 6-5 vote.

House Bill 1279’s sponsor, Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, expressed joy at its passage, but she feared it might suffer the fate of a similar measure earlier in the session.

That other measure, HB 1186, would have allowed convenience stores to sell full-strength beer. It, too, passed the Business Affairs and Labor Committee, but it was killed in the House Finance Committee, where her measure now heads.

McFadyen said she introduced her bill as a compromise to similar measures debated in years past to allow grocery stores to sell alcohol.

She said this idea would serve both interests by allowing grocery stores to sell alcohol without putting existing liquor stores located more than 1,000 feet away out of business.

“This simply allows two businesses, a grocery store and a retail liquor store, to discuss and potentially negotiate for a business, a license and a real estate transaction,” McFadyen said. “House Bill 1279 will set into place a process, not a mandate. If the liquor store owner within 1,000 feet refuses to negotiate or negotiations fail … the grocery store is prohibited from going elsewhere for a license.”

But opponents remained skeptical, saying it opens the door for chain grocery stores to take huge chunks of their business and then send that money out of state.

Ron Vaughn, owner of Argonaut Liquors, one of Denver’s largest liquor stores, said the measure would benefit a handful of big companies while hurting hundreds of smaller operations.

“Does Colorado have to be like other states because some large out-of-state corporations want it that way?” he said. “The Colorado consumer is smarter. I continue to ask, ‘What is positive about this bill?’ The only answer I hear is convenience. Is that really our only concern here?”

He said the bill would cost jobs in Colorado because the few hundred grocery stores in Colorado won’t be able to absorb the jobs the 1,400 liquor stores in the state now employ.

Jeanne McEvoy, executive director of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said every state regulates alcohol in different ways. She said independent polls have shown that Coloradans like the state’s liquor laws as they are.

“I don’t understand what’s wrong with Colorado’s system,” McEvoy said. “We rank in the top 10 of the 50 states for total beverage alcohol sales. We’re No. 1 for craft breweries, we’re No. 2 for craft distillers, and we’re No. 12 for the number of wineries.”

Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Coll-bran, was the sole Republican on the panel to oppose the measure.


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