Sunday, October 25, 2015

Keep Colorado Liquor Sales Local & Independent

Colorado is unique and independent and home to one of the largest most well-defined craft liquor industries in the country. Often referred to as "Beer's Napa Valley," Colorado is home to thousands of independent microbreweries, wineries, and distillers. And, it's a wonderful time for both producers and consumers in this artisan field. However, some are critical of Colorado liquor laws which limit liquor licenses to one per individual business entity. After trying for years to convince the Colorado legislature to change the laws and allow them to sell full-strength beer and wine, the large corporate supermarket chains are now attempting a legislative "end around" by floating a ballot initiative asking voters to approve what the legislature has long rejected. These corporate entities believe that as Colorado's population changes with thousands moving here every month the voters who are used to buying liquor at supermarkets will shift the state's liquor laws to make Colorado like all the other states.

That is change for change's sake, and it's something Colorado does not need. Here is a link to my recent letter to the Denver Post, voicing opposition to the change.

The first rule of governing is “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.” That advice should guide voters’ rejection of Your Choice Colorado’s ballot initiative to change Colorado’s liquor laws on beer and wine sales. Allowing supermarket liquor sales will decrease choice for Coloradans by putting many independent store owners out of business while creating a beer-wine monopoly of the Big Three grocers — King Soopers, Safeway and Walmart. Supermarkets are not hurting for business, and they don’t need to sell everything. Clearly, their limited shelf space and narrow purchasing practices will not offer consumers the vast varieties of small craft beers, wines and spirits available in the state’s 1,600 independent liquor stores. Coloradans appreciate the choice offered by individual liquor stores with knowledgeable staff. Supermarkets don’t need to monopolize beverage sales, and Colorado doesn’t need a pointless and unnecessary new liquor law.
My support for Colorado's liquor stores is not about "opposing the free market," or any other nonsense about my politics. In reality, there is no free market, and when suppliers are consolidated, supply shrinks. Undoubtedly, if supermarkets sell full-strenght beer and wine, many independent liquor stores will lose enough business that they will not be able to make their rents, and they will close. Certainly, as in many states where supermarkets sell beer, wine, and liquor, many liquor stores will be able to stay in business. But that's not really the point. Colorado has a unique economy that offers consumers extensive choice, and there's no reason to change the laws that have helped cultivate such a diverse artisan industry.

Colorado media has covered the issue extensively over the years, and there are many solid arguments on both sides. In this piece of commentary, two writers argue "No, Don't Allow Colorado Grocers to Sell Beer and Wine." It's a sound argument about the value of locally owned independent stores, And, of course, in the interest of fairness, the Denver Post also offered the counter-argument, which basically centers on the innocuous ideas of "choice" and "freedom" with little appreciation for the nuances of the economy and small business. And, the Denver Post hasn't been shy about promoting the interests of large corporate supermarket chains over the hopes of independent business owners. Editorial writer Jeremy Meyer has written in favor of corporations a couple times. Meyer tries to argue that "other states do it," so Colorado has nothing to fear. But that view is naive to the uiqueness of individual states and communities. And, again it simply focuses on the idea that consumers should have the convenience of buying liquor at supermarkets. Yet, that assertion is on shaky ground. Nearly, every supermarket has a liquor store nearby. And arguing that shoppers are so burdened by not being able to buy everything in one place is a bit absurd. Meyer recently followed up with his second column on the issue, though he was a bit more even-tempered with this one. Here was my response to Jeremy Meyer and the DP Editorial Board:

As a supporter of independent business owners, I firmly oppose an unneccessary change to Colorado law, especially when it would only succeed in consolidating larger market share to corporate owners. And, I speak with the view of a transplanted mid-westerner who knows about "how other states sell liquor." When I moved to CO a decade ago, I discovered the uniqueness of the industry that has created something special. And the conservative in me sees no need to change. With your most recent piece, I am hoping you are beginning to re-consider your position that Colorado needs to change simply to be like other states. Coloradoans are not hurting for choice - in fact, they have plenty. And, as I noted in my letter, "supermarkets don't have to sell everything." We can preserve specialty shops because it works for Colorado. Let's focus on avoiding change for change sake, and let's not promote the "Walmartification" of Colorado's liquor industry when we can honor the spirit of artisan craftsman and small business owners.

Ultimately, there is no reason to change Colorado liquor laws. Individual licenses means the state has thousands of vendors for spirits, and no single business has a monopoly. The system serves Colorado well, and, truly, no one is going thirsty.

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