As the old saw goes, there are three categories of falsehoods: lies, damned lies and statistics. We ought to add the fourth category — brightly colored political fliers that fill our mailboxes during election season.

I don’t object to those that boost one candidate and denigrate the other. Politics would be drab indeed if our strutting politicos had to tell the unvarnished truth.

“My mind, career, family and ambitions are mediocre at best. Please vote for me anyway — I think I’m marginally better than my opponent.”

So when Bernie Sanders blames Hillary Clinton’s support of business-friendly trade policies for Detroit’s economic collapse, while Ted Cruz identifies the problem as “60 years of left-wing policies,” you know it’s all theater. They’re just grubbing frantically for votes, and they’ll make whatever absurd pitch the party base might buy.

But local politics can be different. Using lies and exaggerations to sell the voters an initiative can have nasty consequences, like closing hundreds of businesses and putting thousands of people out of work.

Colorado’s independent liquor stores are indeed an anomaly, a sweet reminder of the way retail used to be.

Consider Colorado’s unique and wonderful liquor stores, craft breweries, wineries and distilleries. Thanks to our 1,600 diverse independent liquor stores, small players such as Bristol Brewing are able to get their products to consumers, expand markets and alter consumer tastes. The result: a signature Colorado industry, a potent symbol of youth, energy and fun.

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That happened because of an interesting quirk in Colorado’s liquor laws, restricting license holders to a single place of business. That effectively prohibited national behemoths such as Southland (7-Eleven stores), Kroger (King Soopers), Walmart and Safeway from monopolizing the market for beer, wine and spirits.

Such stores can sell low-strength alcoholic beverages, but not the real thing. For decades, they’ve enviously longed for the booze-peddling possibilities that the law denies them, trying unsuccessfully to convince the state Legislature to give them the green light.

And they haven’t given up. The next step: Ask the state’s voters this November to permit the sale of full-strength wine and beer in grocery stores.

“Your Choice Colorado,” an organization funded by Walmart, Kroger and Safeway, has been flooding mailboxes with supersized fliers touting the lower prices, increased convenience and greater choice that would come from changing the law.

Citing an authoritative-sounding study commissioned by the big three, the proposed measure’s backers make a host of dubious claims:

• Independent liquor stores would actually benefit from price-cutting, one-size-fits-all competition.

• Lower prices = more money in consumers’ pockets = equals more economic activity in Colorado = thousands of new jobs.

• More outlets = more wine and beer sales = $125 million more craft beer sales.

• Big boxes love craft beer. They’ll stock all they can get and craft beer lovers will flock to their grocery stores.

Colorado’s independent liquor stores are indeed an anomaly, a sweet reminder of the way retail used to be. Ours was a nation of small businesses, of hard-working entrepreneurs tied to their city, their neighborhoods and their customers.

The scale and efficiency of big-box stores changed the face of America, decimating downtown businesses, accelerating suburban sprawl and bringing uniform and unvarying products to shelves nationwide.

That’s a model many Coloradans now reject. We don’t much like industrially brewed beer, tasteless supermarket tomatoes, genetically modified frankenfoods and “better living through chemistry.” We like locally sourced food, beers and gin. We’d like to support our small businesses, not toss them to the curb.

It’s hard to believe that restricting competition can actually increase choice, but that’s the way it works.

Stocking decisions for the big three are made in pursuit of single goal: sales margins per foot of shelf or cooler space. For beer, that means plenty of inexpensive beers like Coors, Miller and Bud Light.

Prices per unit volume will decline, so those of us who love industrial beer and cheap wine will do well, but many neighborhood liquor stores will close. Powerful independents like Cheers and Coaltrain will survive, but most smaller stores will close their doors.

One flier summarized the battle ahead: “Did you know that 42 states sell real beer or wine at the grocery store?”

No, I didn’t — and so what? We’re Colorado and we’re not Walmart, Kroger or Safeway’s bitches.

So here’s a suggestion for another future campaign:

“Did you know that 50 states prohibit the sale of marijuana in grocery stores? So wouldn’t it be great to have local marijuana available in more stores?”

Wine, beer, marijuana — aisle 3! n CSBJ

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for taking the big box stores to task on this. As a B&B ownerI don’t go to the liquor store to buy corn flakes and bacon, and I don’t intend to go to Safeway or Walmart to buy liquor. I’m tired of all of them destroying small business.

  2. I would add the following:
    While it might be a little more convenient to have one stop shopping what is the big deal of going next door to lets say queen liquor.. so that is the only thing going for it..but now the negatives:
    1. millions of profits will leave the state instead enriching our local communities
    2. easier access for minors
    3. in the long run less choices
    4. thousands of business owners will loose their lively hood
    5. in the long run higher prices as less competition
    6. thousand of jobs are endangered at local wineries, breweries and distilleries and as well with distributors which will have less higher paid sales people and more lower paid stockers
    7. hundreds of non profits are supported with wine pulls, wines tastings at their fund raisers good luck getting that for free from kroger or walmart
    8.Budweiser will like it but ask the local breweries which would loose out but then if you like your bud or coors only or their affiliated “craft” beers you are not affected..
    9. and when they then try to get the liquor a few years later then the big Liquor warehouses come in and destroy the likes of cheers and coaltrain as well.
    10. lots of empty real estate a lower tax base overall bad news

    Check out http://keepcolocal.com/

    • if free market means a monopoly of a few companies and the death of small businesses then you can have that free market for your self

  3. Restricting markets has never proven to be a good thing for the consumer.

    It is a fair point that big box stores might not carry all the micro brands. But they also don’t carry the niche groceries either; that’s where Vitamin Cottage, Sunflower Markets, Whole Foods, Alphafa’s etc… come in. Most micro breweries have their own tasting rooms, restaurants, or visited by food trucks- they are more then a product, they are an experience that you have to go to that brewery for.

    There are many small local store owners who have exploited Colorado’s restrictive law in order to operate their business. It would not be fair to pull the rug out from under them, but it is also not fair to consumers to continue this charade.
    Grocery stores selling beer and wine does not automatically put these stores out of business, but of course, they will have to differentiate to survive- just like any other business.

    These remaining obsolete “blue laws” need to be phased out, but gradually, to normalize the market.

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