The last of Colorado's prohibition-era laws could fall this November when voters decide on three booze-related ballot measures. Out-of-state entities have spent millions of dollars in support of Propositions 124 and 125.
Prop 124 would allow retailers - including grocery stores - to nearly triple their liquor licenses. Right now, they're limited to three locations. Under Prop 124, they could have eight. That number would increase every five years until 2037 when they could have unlimited licenses.
Prop 125 would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell wine.
Carolyn Joy, Owner of Joy's Wine and Spirits, is among those opposed to the measure. Her store is a neighborhood institution that's been family-owned and operated for almost 60 years. But, she says its future is in jeopardy as voters decide whether to expand where wine and liquor are sold in Colorado. A 2016 law allowed grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer but sales of wine and spirits were to be phased in over 20 years.
"This was supposed to buy us time, it was a compromise," says Joy. "Now they want to have 8 stores overnight and that would have a crushing impact for our industry," said Joy.
Joy Wine and Spirits among Colorado's 1,600 small independently owned liquor stores. Most are located near grocery stores. Supporters of the ballot measures say the changes are about convenience. Opponents say they're about greed. They say grocery stores will never offer what small liquor stores do - thousands of varieties, employees who are experts on wine, beer and spirits, and owners committed to their communities.
"I invest in the neighborhood. I give to the schools. I give to the neighborhood organizations. I do community events," says Joy. "Sometimes people wonder like, why are small businesses, why are we losing jobs. Well, you're losing jobs because you are supporting these huge organizations instead of supporting small businesses."
But David Ross, owner of Big Fella Wine and Liquor has a different take. While he's opposed to grocery stores carrying wine, he's convinced they won't wait another decade and, he says, spirits will be next, "I just want us all on a level playing field so we can compete fairly. Currently, I'm allowed to have one license. That's it. I can have one little store. Big Fella is not allowed to have two."
He supports the expansion of liquor licenses for all. Even if grocery stores can sell everything he does, he says, they won't. Independent stores like his, he says, will always have better selection and service.
Joy worries it won't be enough, "What we have here is really amazing and that would disappear with all of these measures."
Voters will not only decide whether to expand where alcohol is sold in Colorado, but who can deliver alcohol.
Liquor store owners largely oppose Proposition 126 which would allow third-party delivery. Joy says if they sell to a minor they can lose their license. If a delivery service does, she says, it simply loses its ability to deliver alcohol. The measure is expected to cost the state about 120,000 in additional enforcement.
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