Basalt council denies Whole Foods’ beer license | AspenTimes.com

Basalt council denies Whole Foods’ beer license

Whole Foods Market and Four Dogs Fine Wine and Spirits are neighbors at Willits Town Center. They were at odds Tuesday over Whole Foods' quest to start selling beer.

Whole Foods stumbled Tuesday in its effort to get a toehold in the beer business in Basalt.

The Basalt Town Council voted 7-0 to deny a license for the grocer to sell 3.2 percent beer. If approved, the store at Willits Town Center would have automatically been allowed to start selling "full-strength" beer starting Jan. 1, 2019, due to a law passed by the Colorado Legislature this session.

While liquor license hearings are typically routine, Whole Foods' request triggered a two-hour review punctuated by a strong rebuke of the corporation's attorney for aggressive tactics by Council Auden Schendler and a David-versus-Goliath atmosphere.

"I think council should reject this application simply based on need," Schendler said when the council started its deliberations. He noted that several liquor stores already sell full-strength beer in Basalt and outlets such as City Market and convenience stores sell 3.2 percent beer.

“This was a classic fear, I think, of Amazon coming in and taking over Whole Foods.”

— Auden Schendler

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He noted that more than 500 people signed an informal petition circulated by Four Dogs Fine Wine and Spirits, a liquor store next to Whole Foods, to oppose the license.

"I wondered why 500 people signed a petition to say they didn't want this," Schendler said. He answered his own question by noting people feared that a big corporation would come in and try to "steamroll" its way through the process with people in suits and an attorney who would cross-examine any opponents.

"This was a classic fear, I think, of Amazon coming in and taking over Whole Foods," said Schendler, an executive with Aspen Skiing Co., a company that's no stranger to being accused of throwing its weight around in the valley.

Kevin Coates, the attorney representing Whole Foods, tried to present a case that the need for another beer outlet exists in the growing midvalley.

"We're asking for this license because our customers were asking why we weren't selling beer," he said.

The company presented a petition that shows widespread support for its entry into the sale of 3.2 percent beer. But Four Dogs representatives countered with their petition of opposition signed by more than 500 people. They contended many people who supported Whole Foods didn't realize a state law would allow Whole Foods to sell full-strength beer starting next year.

Curtis Fiore, general manager of Four Dogs, said beer sales account for about 25 percent of the store's revenue. "So this would definitely put a dent in our income," he said.

Coates said Whole Foods was willing to compromise. It would agree to limit cooler space to 16 linear feet and carry no more than 65 products. Four Dogs has 40 feet of cooler space and 500 beers, including a vast selection of beer by craft brewers and small companies.

"I think that's a compromise that's not going to put anybody out of business," Coates said.

He reminded the council, which was sitting as the town liquor authority, that its decision had to come down to need, not whether the request would generate more competition with existing businesses.

The council couldn't be swayed. "I also am not convinced of the need and need seems to be the word of the day," Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said.

Numerous people showed up in support of Four Dogs and several in the audience applauded when Whole Foods' request was denied. The grocer has the option of refining its request and returning to the town or seeking relief in court.

scondon@aspentimes.com