Liqour selections

Colorado liquor stores not happy with Initiative 121

Jim Archibald and his wife have owned Morgan’s Liquor for twenty years. The store sits at 1200 East Evans Avenue, anchored just off a Safeway, which to Morgan looks more like a corporate behemoth coming to eat its sales.

January 1, 2019 was a dark day for independent liquor stores like Morgan’s; this is when grocery stores were allowed to sell pure beer for the first time in Colorado. “Our beer sales have dropped 30% since [grocery stores] had beer,” says Archibald. As a result, he had to lay off four employees and cut his advertising budget. He now fears that another drop in sales could occur, which could force him to lay off even more employees.

Signatures for Initiative 121, which would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell wine, and Initiative 122, which would allow third-party companies such as Uber Eats and DoorDash to deliver alcohol to restaurants, convenience stores, liquor and groceries, were submitted by the Aug. 8 deadline. Both will likely be on the ballot in November.

Proponents of the initiative say the large selection available at liquor stores will keep them in business, even if 121 is passed. “Colorado had 1,600 licensed liquor stores before beer in grocery stores, and three years later we have 1,592 because consumers have more choices in liquor stores – more beer choices and wine,” says Michelle Lyng, spokesperson for Initiatives 121 and 122. “Grocery stores and liquor stores will continue to operate successfully as they do now.”

Lyng says voters were excited to sign the petition to put the initiatives on the ballot. “Because of the convenience of being able to purchase a bottle of wine when grocery shopping and the convenience of being able to order a bottle of wine to accompany food delivered from a restaurant, it was an easy sell, and we found that the Coloradans were thrilled to sign,” she notes.

Archibald, however, predicts that move could take hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales to his store, even with his wide selection. His biggest concern is that grocery stores are starting to sell the most popular products and that customers are buying them at grocery stores for convenience or at cheaper prices than at liquor stores.

“Everyone knows that 20% of products is 80% of business,” says Archibald. “Each beer is on sale at a price that we can’t maintain. I could sell it at the price they sell it at, but maybe I could offer it as a weekend special. They’re trying to smother us out.”

At Morgan’s Liquor, an 18-pack of Coors Light costs $18.99. At the nearby Safeway, it costs $17.99 regularly and $16.99 with a Safeway card. A 24-pack of Coors Light was $20.99 at Morgan, while at Safeway it was priced at $21.99 regularly and $19.99 with a card. Many selections were also priced the same at both stores.

Wholesale stores like Sam’s Club are where prices differ the most. Sam’s sells a 24-pack of Coors Light for $18.46, beating both Morgan’s and Safeway. A 20-pack of Bud Lights at Morgan is $19.99, while at Sam’s Club a 24-pack is $17.96.

Keegan Jenks, owner of the family business Bacchus Wine & Spirits at 9265 South Broadway, is also competing with a Safeway and echoes Archibald’s sentiments. He says a big chunk of the store’s sales come from its top 25 to 30 beer and wine sellers. Even though liquor stores have the advantage of selection, that’s not what keeps them afloat.

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Bacchus Wines and Spirits at Highlands Ranch.

Katrina Leibee

Jenks says the store’s beer sales were cut in half after the beer measure was passed in 2019, and now with Initiative 121 he doesn’t know what the future of his business will look like. “If we don’t protect independent small businesses, we’re walking a thin line to people who no longer need small businesses,” he notes, adding that grocery clerks don’t know specific wines. and cannot provide the same service. you might walk into a liquor store.

So how much wine can you expect to see in grocery stores if the initiative is adopted? While the selection will likely always be greater at liquor stores, there’s nothing stopping grocery stores from tossing out the soda and setting up huge aisles of wine if they wanted to.

If the measure is adopted, grocery stores and convenience stores will have to go through a process to request changes to their premises. For example, if a grocery store currently has an aisle of refrigerators that store their beer, the best they can do is put their wine in those refrigerators. If the store wants to set up a wine aisle, it will have to apply to modify its premises through its local jurisdiction. For Denver, that means the Excise and Licensing Department.

After a store makes a request, it goes to a hearing where the public can give their opinion. According to Denver’s Excise and Licensing Hearing Policies and Procedures, local jurisdictions must consider “the reasonable requirements of the neighborhood and the desires of adult residents” when deciding to alter a store. Additionally, since alcohol falls under state and local licensing, the state must also approve the change.

“A significant number of people are expected to apply for expansion,” says Tom Downey, a regulatory attorney who advises on alcohol and marijuana licensing.

Lyng says there is no specific formula involved. Each store and community may approach the expansion application process where they may sell alcohol differently. “The store must go through a community input process and follow national and local government review,” she notes.

Could grocery stores in Colorado one day also sell spirits like rum, tequila and vodka? “If at a later date there is a ballot initiative, it would be subject to the will of the people,” Downey said.

It is a date that Archibald fears. “In 2024, I bet you they’re going to try to get spirits approved,” he says. For now, he’s doing what he can to keep Morgan competitive by focusing on selection, excellent customer service and the possibility of future delivery.

Jenks says if Initiative 122 passes, his store will also do what it can to boost sales, but he doesn’t anticipate it will make enough of a difference to offset the loss he will see. “In the grand scheme of things, when they take 20% of your business, it’s hard to make ends meet,” he concludes.