Cheers to compromise on grocers’ alcohol sales

It was not a perfect solution but, all in all, we’re pleased that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 197, allowing grocery-store companies to phase in the sale of full-strength beer and wine over 20 years. Current law limits grocery stores to selling full-strength beer, wine and other alcohol to just one location statewide.

We’re even more pleased that a potentially destructive ballot measure allowing broader sale of alcohol by grocery stores was withdrawn from the November ballot.

It’s obvious that the governor — one of the pioneers of Colorado’s craft-brewing industry through his Wynkoop Brewing Co. — agonized over whether to sign the bill, fearing its impact on the craft-brewing industry and independent liquor stores.

“In the end, I was persuaded by a majority — and I think it probably was a significant majority — of the independent liquor store owners, who wanted us to sign this bill,” Hickenlooper told Colorado Public Radio. “They were basically forced into this compromise by a looming threat of a ballot initiative which literally, in the course of one vote, they would lose some significant part of what they worked so hard to create.”

Thanks to Hickenlooper’s signing of the bill, that ballot initiative, which would have allowed full-strength alcohol sales at 1,600 Colorado grocery stores, was pulled from the ballot by Your Choice Colorado, which was backing the campaign.

Many independent liquor stores supported the legislative compromise. The measure requires grocery stores within a 1,500-foot radius of a liquor store to buy out that license before they can sell full-strength alcohol. Grocery-store chains would be limited to selling liquor in 20 of their stores statewide for 20 years.

Significantly, the compromise also allows liquor stores to sell food, something they were prohibited from doing under the old law.

Some grocery stores will begin selling liquor in 2017, with others phasing out 3.2 beer and replacing it with full-strength beer by 2019. Liquor licenses will be available to all grocery stores by 2037.

It’s likely that no one is completely happy with this compromise — not the grocery stores that sought unfettered ability to sell alcohol, not the liquor stores that feared competition from well-heeled grocery chains and not the craft brewers that feared loss of shelf space from having to deal with out-of-state buyers.

But that’s the nature of compromise.

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