support your local liquor store.

Posted on: January 10, 2019
BusinessDen recently posted an article with small liquor store owners’ reactions to Colorado Senate Bill 197, which allows chain stores to sell full-strength beer as of January 1, 2019. Prior to that date, an individual or corporation could only hold a single liquor license (which allowed them to sell beer, wine, and liquor) within the state. Now, full strength beer is available at chain stores like Walmart and Target as well as supermarkets and convenience stores.
 
While, in general, I oppose blue laws (Josh and I were delighted to be able to buy real beer that first Sunday in July, 2008), this post-prohibition law prevented monopolies and supported small businesses.
The Beerd Wrangler (with a much smaller beard) buying a sixer of Rogue on the first day of Sunday liquor sales at our former local liquor store in Denver.
 
Argument for Senate Bill 197 #1: “other states do it and it works just fine.” 
 
Just because other states do it doesn’t make it the best choice for our state or our citizens or our business owners. Most of the states who have this law in place have had it since the repeal of prohibition, meaning that as their population and the economy changed, they were able to adapt more readily. In Colorado, because we didn’t allow supermarkets and chain stores to sell beer and alcohol, independent liquor stores have thrived. Many have opened next to or near chain stores to service that need. So, while a “one stop shop” is nice, it’s not like buying beer has ever been overly inconvenient.
 
But even the states where this has been law for as long as people can remember, it doesn’t always help craft breweries or the individuals seeking that beer out.
 
In Colorado, the ROI on distribution for a small craft brewery is largely in the marketing benefits. The profit on bottled and canned beer sales is tiny (and less if you have a distributor) compared to in-house, taproom sales until you reach a certain volume of production. If those small guys are unable to produce the volume to supply the chains – or if they are forced to use a distributor – they may stop distributing altogether. This means less access to different beers and less marketing opportunities for these small brands.
 
We have traveled all over the country to drink beer. During those travels we usually try to make a stop to pick up at least some packaged products to either drink in the hotel room or bring home with us. Without fail, the states that allow for supermarkets and big box stores to sell full-strength beer have fewer independent beer stores and their packaged product selection is not nearly as robust as we see in Colorado. We have also noticed that there is more beer stored warm (which is sometimes due to even more bizarre laws) and more out-of-date beer. We are lucky to travel to Asheville so often as they have at least two excellent, independent beer stores (Appalachian Vintners and Bruisin’ Ales), but what about a town like Taos? It is close to both Santa Fe and Albuquerque, both great beer towns. It has two breweries of its own. It has a varied populace when it comes to income and is a popular vacation destination for people with disposable income – many from Colorado – a beer-loving state. So where are the independent liquor stores with a solid beer selection?
 
But, back to the original argument. If we go with that, why not adopt other liquor laws from other states? What about having beer over a certain percentage only sold at liquor stores since it works for other states, why not here? Other states only allow for hard liquor sales at government-controlled ABC stores, so why not here? Other states only allow you to physically carry a single beer at a time to your table, so why not here? Other states require you to have a membership in order to drink at a bar with full-strength beer, so why not here?
 
Because it worked elsewhere can be a strong argument, but in this case, it just isn’t.
 
Argument for Senate Bill 197 #2: “you don’t go to the local grocery store for groceries, so what’s your problem going to a big grocery store for beer.”
 
This argument actually supports those of us who disagree with this move. The reason we don’t go to the local grocery store is because THEY DON’T EXIST. They have been driven out or purchased by large, multi-national conglomerates. When large corporations/big box stores move in, they drive small businesses out (Source, source). And if those large businesses fail, those small communities can be left devastated without jobs or resources (Source). 
 
Even our Colorado-owned chains don’t belong to Colorado anymore: King Soopers was Colorado-owned until it was purchased by Kroger in 1983.
 
Across nine different studies related to community investment (direct and indirect) by businesses, 48% of every purchase made at a local, independent shop is recirculated within that community. Compare that to just 14% at chains. (Source).
 
Small businesses also supply a huge percentage of jobs (60-80%) as well as skills training across the country (Source).
 
Safeway, King Soopers, 7-Eleven, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Costco, Circle K, Target, Walmart… all are national or multi-national corporations who don’t give one shake about the neighborhoods they service. Their sole goal is profits for their shareholders.
 
While this bill may have had support within the state, it was not pushed by local, Colorado companies.
 
Argument for Senate Bill 197 #3: “it’s already passed and in effect, so why not just accept it?”
 
Those of us who love craft beer need to support our local liquor stores – the same stores that helped so many of our favorite brands (even the ones who supported this move in order to appease their distributors) get off the ground. We need to support the liquor stores who keep the beer cold; who give shelf space to the little guy; who hire knowledgeable staff for a living wage; who support their community.
 
We also need to remain vigilant to keep wine and hard liquor out of chain stores. If I’ve seen a lack of variety at chain stores in other states when it comes to beer, it’s nothing compared to the absolute absence of any sort of small batch liquor. And while distribution of beer in a state like Colorado is basically only marketing for the small guys, for distilleries, it’s crucial.
 
Now more than ever we need to support local, independent liquor stores the same way we support local, independent breweries. The Beerd Wrangler and I are committed to only spending our money at the local shops that support our favorite beer brands.
 
One of the only net positive things to come out of this bill is that anyone who sells beer to a retailer – be they distributor or brewery – is now restricted as to how much time they may spend at an individual establishment and what tasks they can complete. One of the ways that the mass market breweries (and their distributors) have long held an advantage over the little guys is by allowing their representatives to stop by liquor stores every day rotating and “servicing” stock and even doing things like mopping the floor in exchange for more shelf space. Obviously, smaller breweries and distributors don’t have the time or personnel to do these tasks, so that meant less room at the store for them. Those practices (still common nationally) are no longer allowed and that’s a good thing, but could have been addressed without this bill passing.
 
You can disagree with my lack of support for Senate Bill 197, or in my reasoning, but I just can’t ignore the negative impacts this will have on small business. I have never been silent on this issue and I won’t become complacent now.
 
One particular quote from the article was the impetus for this article. From Lisa Von Feldt, owner of The Wine Seller and Spirits Too:
 
“Every single liquor license in Colorado up until now, you could only hold one liquor license. Which means every one of these little liquor stores are individually owned, period. No corporations. Now you’ve taken a big, huge bite out of every single individual liquor seller and handed it over to the corporations who don’t keep the money local, who don’t contribute to their communities, and I don’t think it’s fair.”
 
Me, either.
 
Cheers.

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