This year's session of the state Legislature included a bill that would have allowed grocery stores to sell full-strength beer. It was killed, but a similar proposal is expected to be on the ballot in 2010.
It deserves to be decisively defeated. The idea sounds good, but in reality it would offer little advantage to consumers. And it would initiate a process that could destroy countless jobs and redirect the profits of locally owned businesses to giant supermarket chains.
Grocery and convenience stores now are allowed to sell beer with an alcohol content of no more than 3.2 percent. Only liquor stores can sell more potent drink, including higher-strength beer.
The largest volume of 3.2 sales used to occur on Sundays, when liquor stores were closed. But when our lawmakers changed the law last year to allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays, the sale of 3.2 beer in convenience stores fell off dramatically.
For typical convenience stores, that is a problem. Not counting gasoline, beer is their second-best-selling product. But while convenience store operators have a legitimate complaint, the way to help them is not to destroy another industry. This beer business could lead to precisely that.
An industry consultant told the Legislature that if grocery stores are allowed to sell full-strength beer, within five years, 50 percent of the state's 1,672 independent liquor stores would close. But that would be just the start.
Why would the big grocery chains stop with beer? If they can sell beer, why not wine and liquor, as well? They do in other states. And with that, they would ruin more than locally owned liquor stores.
Under state law, a retail liquor outlet can buy alcoholic beverages only from a licensed Colorado wholesaler. But the first thing the big supermarket chains would do after getting wine and spirits into their stores would be to lobby for the right to buy directly from the wineries, distillers and importers. Again, that is what they have done in other states.
The argument will be that by offering wine and spirits and by buying directly, the chains will be able to offer lower prices with a good selection. But the lower prices will be what the chains pay, and the benefit to consumers will be nothing more than being able to buy a run-of-the-mill bottle of wine with the same check as the milk and bread.
And more than liquor stores will be affected. What are the odds that a company headquartered in Ohio or California will care about stocking a Durango microbrew or a McElmo Canyon wine in a Denver supermarket? Those businesses can get their product into Front Range liquor stores looking for variety, but supermarkets have little shelf space for niche products.
That, too, can be seen in other states where allowing wine and liquor in grocery stores has resulted in prices no better than those in Colorado, often with less variety. And with a great many liquor outlets already located close or right next to supermarkets, even the convenience factor is minimal.
Meanwhile, the profit from the sale of that wine will go to an out-of-state corporation instead of a local liquor store. That business' employees, the guy who used to load the truck in Denver, the truck driver and the salesperson who used to call on the liquor store will all be looking for work.
That is a high price to pay for so little convenience.