Four Dogs hopes to put the bite on Whole Foods’ pursuit of beer license | AspenTimes.com

Four Dogs hopes to put the bite on Whole Foods’ pursuit of beer license

Whole Foods Market and Four Dogs Fine Wine and Spirits, neighbors at Willits Town Center, have prospered in harmony since the grocer opened six years ago this month. Now relations are strained because of beer sales.

When Whole Foods Market goes before the Basalt Town Council tonight to seek a license to sell 3.2 percent beer, it will be faced with an opposing petition from its neighbor, Four Dogs Fine Wine and Spirits.

The adjacent businesses have lived in harmony since Whole Foods opened Aug. 15, 2012, but a new Colorado law affecting beer sales threatens to sour the relationship like a bad hangover.

The Colorado Legislature passed a law on the last day of the session in May that automatically allows businesses that possess a 3.2 percent beer license to sell "full-strength" beer starting Jan. 1, 2019. That's spurred grocery stores such as Whole Foods in Willits Town Center and Clark's Market in Aspen to pursue licenses to sell 3.2 percent beer, also known as fermented malt beverages. The new law won't affect sales of wine and hard liquor.

A May 10 article in the Denver Business Journal said as many as 3,000 supermarkets and convenience stores will gain the ability to sell full-strength beer come Jan. 1. That threatens an estimated 1,600 independent liquor stores — Four Dogs among them.

"It's going to be tough. We're going to have a lot more competition," said Curtis Fiore, general manager of Four Dogs.

City Market in El Jebel already has its license to sell 3.2 percent beer, so it will be eligible to sell full-strength beer when the law takes effect Jan. 1. Whole Foods Market Rocky Mountain/Southwest applied in May to obtain the 3.2 percent beer license. It hired a petition firm from Lafayette to collect signatures July 30 through Aug. 2 to show a need and support for the application. The petition submitted on behalf of Whole Foods said 182 people signed in favor of the license for the grocery store, while 17 were opposed.

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The information submitted to the town said the people who were approached were informed of the applicant, the site location and the type of license being sought. There was no apparent sharing of information that holding the 3.2 percent beer license would enable Whole Foods to eventually sell full-strength beer.

Fiore said he has learned that some people who signed Whole Foods' petition were unaware of the law that will allow them to start selling full-strength beer next year. He said he believes some people wouldn't have signed Whole Foods' petition if they were aware of the broader implications of the national corporation competing against a local, independent retailer.

In response, Four Dogs is collecting signatures on its own petition in opposition of Whole Foods acquiring a license. More than 500 people had signed Four Dogs' petition as of 11 a.m. Monday, according to Fiore. He said the liquor store's attorney will present the petition to the council tonight. Staff and supporters also will be there to express their feelings.

Issuance of liquor licenses are more often than not a brief, bureaucratic maneuver for the council, but this review promises to be anything but standard. The staff has recommended approval. The review is set for 7 p.m.

Fiore said he has been in contact with Whole Foods regional officials about continuing to cooperate, but nothing is written in stone. The national grocer has indicated it will limit shelf space to 16 linear feet, he said. Four Dogs has more than 40 linear feet, so it would still hold the advantage in selection and in knowledge of beers.

The new state law also included a provision to appease independent liquor stores. The grocery and convenience store chains will be prohibited from selling beer below their costs. The fear among legislators was the national chains would under-sell beer to drive out competitors, then raise prices.

Seeking a 3.2 percent beer license isn't something new for Whole Foods. It already holds licenses to sell beer at three other stores in Colorado. It also operates a liquor store in Boulder.

Fiore said he believes Four Dogs has a loyal following that will continue to come in even if Whole Foods eventually can sell full-strength beer. However, Four Dogs will lose business from visitors who don't have store loyalty, he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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