State booze bill will have little effect locally

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

Colorado supermarkets and convenience stores could start selling full-strength beer, wine and liquor — at some point, in some places. The state Legislature passed a bill Wednesday that aims to phase out some of its Prohibition-era liquor laws over the next 20 years. The bill is full of phasing schedules and restrictions meant to compromise the interests of those who want to see a full expansion into grocery stores and those concerned about the impact on liquor stores, which are generally small businesses because up until now a single party could only own one license in the state.

“It’s a horrendous idea,” said Reed Lewis, owner of Daly Bottle Shop in Snowmass Village. Lewis is opposed to changing the liquor laws because he believes it will hurt small-business owners and also consumers, because they may not get the wide selection of unique brews and spirits that are offered now.

“People are going away from big businesses in general, and there’s a reason for that,” Lewis said.

The changes likely won’t affect Aspen or Snowmass Village any time soon. Grocery stores can’t obtain a liquor license if there is a liquor store within a 1,500-foot radius — 3,000 feet for towns with populations less than 10,000 — unless they acquire all of the stores in that radius. But there are other restrictions in addition to that.

Both City Market and Clark’s Market in Aspen are located in the immediate vicinity of liquor shops.

“There’s too many hoops to jump through,” said Tom Clark Sr., founder and CEO of Clark’s Market, a small grocery chain with locations in Colorado and Utah.

Most Clark’s stores even stopped selling 3.2 percent beer after liquor stores were allowed to open on Sundays, because that was the only day they made any profit off those items, he said. He said he would like his company to be able to carry full-strength beer and wine in stores.

“It’s a consumer issue,” Clark said. “It’s really a food item, and it’s kind of silly that we’re not able to offer that to consumers.”

Plus, those items are available in grocery stores in most states, so in such resort towns such as Aspen and Snowmass, where Clark’s has stores, tourists expect to be able to purchase those items in one stop, he said.

Grant Amundson, an Aspen Village resident, said he used to work at a liquor store in town, and back then, he probably would have opposed the changes. But now, he said, it just makes more sense.

“I think it’s ultimately good for the consumer because it will also help them save money,” Amundsen said.

Clark agreed.

“Grocers work on lower margins,” Clark said. “There’s a lowering of the costs of these things. Plus you have to take into account the number of shopping trips eliminated.”

Your Choice Colorado, an organization advocating for expanding liquor sales into grocery stores, is not content with the new legislation and might attempt to take the issue to voters in the fall.

“I hope it still goes to vote in November,” Clark said.

If it does, Lewis said he hopes voters understand the full gravity of the decision. Many liquor-store owners, like him, have owned their businesses for many years and always operated under the same rules.

“I would encourage everyone to vote against it,” Lewis said.