Group pushing full-strength beer sales in Colorado gives up quest for ballot measure
http://gazette.com/group-pushing-ful...rticle/1579452
By: Rich Laden

Colorado liquor store owners have something more than just the Fourth of July to toast this weekend.

A group seeking to place a measure on November's statewide ballot that would have immediately expanded full-strength beer and wine sales to all groceries - and pose competition for independent liquor stores - announced Friday that it has scrapped its campaign.

Your Choice Colorado, backed by grocery chains Safeway and King Soopers, had been collecting petition signatures to place its measure before voters. Instead, it ended its campaign after saying it had gathered more than 85,000 of the nearly 99,000 signatures it needed.

The group cited a bill approved by the General Assembly this year - and signed into law last month by Gov. John Hickenlooper - that sought to strike a compromise between grocery and liquor store factions over the state's Prohibition-era limits on liquor sales.

The new legislation allows grocery store chains to slowly add sales of full-strength beer and wine over several years; Your Choice Colorado's ballot measure would have allowed such sales next year.

"With the legislation now in affect (sic), we are working diligently to figure out how this law will impact both Coloradans and grocery stores," Your Choice Colorado campaign manager Georgie Aguirre-Sacasa said in an email to news outlets. "While the bill isn't perfect and we continue to believe that Coloradans deserve better, it does change the old status quo and will allow people more access to the Colorado craft beer and wine that they love."

Aguirre-Sacasa couldn't be reached for further comment, and Your Choice Colorado spokesman Matt Chandler said via email that the group won't respond to questions.

Jeanne McEvoy, CEO of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said her group was glad Your Choice Colorado ended its efforts and believes the new law will work well for the grocery chains.

"We think in the long run, we'll just be able to work together and provide the citizens with quality products and services," she said.

Jim Little, co-owner of Coaltrain Wine and Spirits in Colorado Springs and part of the Keep Colorado Local group that opposed Your Choice Colorado's efforts, said he also was pleased to hear the petition drive had been scrapped.

"The compromise was fair," Little said. "It's not perfect, but we believe it's fair.

Little speculated that Safeway and King Soopers - as the supporters of Your Choice Colorado - didn't want to spend huge sums of money to promote a ballot measure or perhaps thought it might lose.

King Soopers referred questions to Your Choice Colorado. Safeway couldn't be reached for comment.

Stores such as Coaltrain offer extensive varieties of products, have trained experts to help customers in their purchases and provide personal service that big-box stores can't, Little said.

"The public will be disappointed if they do take over and liquor stores go by the wayside," Little said.

At issue is a 1933 Colorado law that restricted grocery chains to a single liquor license for the sale of full-strength beer, wine and liquor; other stores in a chain can sell 3.2 percent beer.

Under the bill signed by Hickenlooper, grocery stores starting in January will be able to obtain up to five licenses to sell full-strength beer and wine if the store buys out at least two nearby liquor stores and licenses from all liquor stores within 1,500 feet, even if more than two are in that radius.

In 2019, hard alcohol sales will be allowed in the stores.

The additional license limit will slowly increase until the restriction on grocery chain liquor sales is completely lifted in 2037.

The new bill also prohibits groceries with multiple licenses from selling beer, wine and liquor at "a price that is below the liquor-licensed" store's cost to purchase the alcohol.

Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228
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