Hundreds turn out for Capitol hearing on 3.2 beer |

Hundreds turn out for Capitol hearing on 3.2 beer

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” The owners of liquor stores and convenience stores squared off Wednesday at the state Capitol over who should have the right to sell full-strength beer.

About 400 people packed into the building for a hearing on a measure (House Bill 1192) that would allow convenience stores and supermarkets to sell regular beer, rather than the 3.2 percent alcohol beer they’re largely limited to selling right now.

The hearing continued into Wednesday evening after over five hours of testimony.

Both convenience stores and supermarkets say sales of 3.2 beer have tanked since liquor stores started staying open on Sundays under a law passed last year.

Many liquor store owners reluctantly supported staying open on Sundays last year as a way to protect their businesses from a push by supermarkets to be able to sell beer and wine. They say now allowing supermarkets and convenience stores to compete with them by selling full-strength beer could drive up to half of them to close in the next three to four years.

Darlene McBee, a liquor store owner from Pueblo, took a bus to the hearing with 25 other owners from the city. She said the bill would benefit big chains at the expense of small businesses. Janet Ribal, who joined her on the bus, said chains would be able to sell beer below cost and drive them out of business.

“It won’t work for us,” Ribal said.

But convenience store owners, including dozens of 7-Eleven franchise owners and managers in red uniform shirts, said they were small business owners too and were hurting because of existing liquor laws.

Former state Rep. Mark Larson, now a lobbyist for gas station convenience stores, said those business owners have taken a double hit. In 2007, lawmakers passed a bill allowing supermarkets to sell discounted gas, cutting into convenience store gas sales. Then he said the Sunday sales bill ate into what was left of their thin margin.

“Folks, these guys are on the brink of termination too,” Larson said.

Liquor store owners and some Colorado craft brewers who oppose the bill see supermarkets as their main enemy.

Eric Wallace, founder of Left Hand Brewing Company, said 80 percent of 3.2 beer sales is in supermarkets. If the law is changed, he fears their corporate buyers would favor big-name, national brands and be less likely to stock their shelves with new or distinctive beers. He said the state’s independent liquor store owners have helped foster the variety of beers Colorado offers.

“How are we going to get any better? We already have the best,” Wallace said of the state’s system.

Colorado has so many small liquor stores because liquor licenses are limited to one per person. Supermarkets and convenience stores can apply for a liquor license but can sell only beer, wine and liquor at one of their locations because of the one-per-person limit.

So many people showed up for the hearing that, at its start, only about 300 were able to fit into the main hearing room and a spillover room where an audio feed of the testimony was piped in. About 100 people milled around in the hallway outside.

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