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Grocery stores want to ditch near beer

Colorado food stores want to put full-strength beer and wines on their grocery shelves. Voters will be asked to approve the plan this November, and ballot initiatives are under way to collect signatures.Under current state law, stores that sell food are only allowed to sell beer and other malt beverages with up to 3.2 percent alcohol.The liquor store and brewery industries are fighting the move, saying it would destroy local small businesses and reduce access to Coloradoís craft beer options.Only four other states have laws limiting certain beer sales to 3.2 percent alcohol. ìItís a relic of prohibition,î said Matt Chandler, spokesman for Your Choice Colorado, the organization leading the ballot initiatives. ìWhen beer sales were legalized after the end of prohibition, there was an interim step to use 3.2 percent beer. Most have moved forward to full strength.î Besides limiting grocery stores and convenience stores to 3.2 percent beer, Colorado limits any single company or individual to one liquor license and one location. Each liquor store in the state is owned by a different small business. Large multi-state liquor store companies like BevMo or Total Wine are not allowed to operate in Colorado.ìOur current makeup of laws fosters lots of locally owned liquor stores that can create relationships,î said Jennie Dunstone, spokeswoman for Keep Colorado Local, the organization of liquor stores and craft brewers opposing the initiatives. ìPeople move to Colorado because of the culture we created, and that includes local businesses. The system allows us to meet the needs of our communities and foster the businesses at the same time.îThe ballot language, if passed, would not allow grocery stores to sell distilled spirits, and it would not allow liquor store companies to have more than one location. ìThe current ballot language is actually rather unfair,î Dunstone said. ìIt allows for multiple licenses, but only for grocery stores. So, it wouldnít allow the chain liquor stores.îOne of Keep Colorado Localís main arguments against full strength beer and wine in groceries is the potential damage to the small businesses that run the stateís liquor stores — and the jobs they create. ìIf this initiative passes, a study in 2011 said over 700 local businesses would close,î Dunstone said. ìThat will have an impact throughout the state.îYour Choice Coloradoís Chandler said there is evidence that groceries with full strength beer and wine and liquor stores can coexist and thrive in a community. ìThe experience of 42 other states tells us those fear tactics are not true,î Chandler said.Local craft brewers are currently able to work directly with decision makers at each liquor store to have their beer offered to consumers, Dunstone said. ìIf you talk to a local brewery, they have better access to shelf space with a local business owner than trying to deal with huge businesses,î she said. ìIn terms of selection for the consumer, the current system is actually a benefit.îA compromise bill is in the works at the state Legislature. The measure in the Colorado Senate would allow a company to have five licenses for full-strength beer and wine in the state, and a company would be allowed to purchase licenses from other stores, as long as that grocery was at least a half-mile from a current liquor store.The compromise was introduced with only three weeks remaining in the legislative session, which makes it unlikely to pass. ìThere has been some discussion about the legislation introduced as a compromise,î Chandler said. ìOur view is that we are happy to take a look at potential legislation, but that will not change our plan to take this to the voters.îSignature gathering for the initiative began in mid-April. ìWeíre very confident weíll be wrapped up before the deadline,î Chandler said.

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