Colorado’s liquor laws are grossly unfair to independent local liquor stores like mine. I have owned Applejack Wine & Spirits since 1994, having joined my father-in-law in the business he purchased in 1980.
Over the past 40 years, my family has worked hard to establish and grow the business. We are part of the Colorado community. But, without Proposition 124, that could soon change.
Until 2016, all liquor stores operated under the same rules, the same laws. These laws have allowed Colorado to have some of the most competitive stores in the country, with low prices and a huge selection.
It ended in 2016 when a slew of national big box chains prevailed in a campaign to change our liquor laws to their advantage – at the expense of every neighborhood liquor store in Colorado, including mine. Seemingly overnight, big-box stores with a pharmacy had access to more liquor licenses than independent local retailers in Colorado.
Under current law, these big-box retailers are entitled to eight liquor licenses and locations; local liquor stores are allowed three – less than half of our competitors. To make matters worse, within a few years the law will give them unlimited licenses in their hundreds of locations, while stores like mine will be capped at 4. The inequity is clear.
This unfair advantage in current law means that national big box retailers will quickly come to dominate the market at the expense of the local stores we see today. Big box retailers will be allowed to multiply while independent stores like ours will be denied the chance to grow and compete – unless Proposition 124 is passed.
For me, as the owner of Applejack Wine & Spirits – a store that opened in 1961, before I-70 was completed after Kipling – the failure of Proposition 124 would mean that the company that my family worked so hard to grow and serve our community would be destined to wither and die. That would mean there is nothing to pass on to the next generation. How can I ask my children to enter a business that I know would be pulverized by these big box retailers? What two generations have built would end with me. This is not a result I had expected.
For our customers, this would mean higher prices and reduced selection as big box retailers wipe out local liquor stores and establish a monopoly. The competitive retail environment would vaporize.
Proposition 124 can stop this demolition and ensure customers continue to have competitive prices, quality service and a great selection.
Colorado’s craft brewers and distillers thrived in our independent market only because stores like ours were open to local brands. No one can honestly believe that shoppers in Bentonville, Arkansas, or Cincinnati, Ohio, will care about new startups in the Colorado craft market. How much storage space will they have for beer, wine and spirits next to dog food? Will they be ready to try their luck with a Colorado start-up like Applejack did with New Belgium, Breckenridge Brewery, Wynkoop beer and so many others? I doubt.
Proposition 124 aims to maintain a competitive retail environment by ensuring a level playing field. This will ensure that when big box retailers are entitled to 8 licenses, Applejack and all other stores like ours will also be able to have 8 licenses. Where these big box stores hold licenses for 20, 30, or unlimited stores, all liquor stores in the state will have the same opportunity. In short, parity.
Proposition 124 will allow entrepreneurs with new ideas to open stores without restrictions on growth. By leveling the playing field, it will allow stores like mine to compete.
Proposition 124 takes a slow, methodical approach to adding more licenses. And that stops our gradual but certain death at the hands of national big box retailers.
If our local liquor stores and craft beverage industry are to continue to compete and thrive, our laws must treat all retailers fairly and equitably. This is why I vote yes on proposal 124 and respectfully ask you to do the same.
Jim Shpall, of Englewood, is owner and CEO of Applejack Wine & Spirits.
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