Governor signs alcohol in grocery stores bill that ‘no one is celebrating.’

Hoping to ward off a bigger threat, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a compromise bill that will allow grocery stores to slowly phase in the sale of full-strength beer and then wine and liquor.

staff photo
Logan Liquors in Denver's Speer neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Logan Liquors in Denver's Speer neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Hoping to ward off a bigger threat, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a compromise bill that will allow grocery stores to slowly phase in the sale of full-strength beer and then wine and liquor.

“You’ve got two evils,” he said Friday at a press conference announcing the decision over which he said he was “agonizing” earlier this week. “No one is celebrating this.”

Hickenlooper waited until just about the last possible moment to sign the bill, and up until the press conference started, many believed he would let it become law without his signature. When he first received it from the legislature, he said he didn’t understand it.

Hickenlooper said it was important that he sign the bill as a show of support for independent liquor stores rather than let it become law without his signature, and he praised the “elegant job” of Sen. Pat Steadman in protecting diverse interests.

“Sometimes there is a bill that is distasteful to certain core values, and we let them become law without signing them, as a kind of protest,” he said. “I felt it was important to sign this to send a pretty strong message that this is an appropriate compromise because the independent liquor stores as an industry signed off on it.”
Hickenlooper doesn’t think the initiative being pushed by Your Choice Colorado, which has the backing of King Soopers and Safeway, would pass this year, but liquor stores and craft brewers would have to spend millions of dollars to fend it off, only to see it come back again and again until it eventually passes.
Your Choice Colorado wants to see grocery stores be able to buy full-strength beer and wine immediately.
Logan Liquors owner Lore Spanbauer behind the counter of her small family-owned store in Denver's Speer neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Logan Liquors owner Lore Spanbauer behind the counter of her small family-owned store in Denver's Speer neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Right now, grocery chains can sell alcohol at just one location in the state and are otherwise limited to 3.2 percent beer that presumably somebody buys.
The compromise legislation allows chains to add 20 licenses over 20 years, with up to five locations selling full-strength beer in 2017. However, they would need to buy out liquor store owners within 1,500 feet of the store, giving a measure of economic protection to those businesses that haven’t had direct competition.
After those 20 years are up, all limits go away and grocery stores can sell in as many locations as they like.
The law goes into effect July 1.
Logan Liquors in Denver's Speer neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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A sign in protest of the liquor store bill on Logan Liquors in Denver's Speer neighborhood. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Will it work?
In a blog post last month, Your Choice Colorado’s campaign manager called the compromise bill a “sham” and a “ruse.” Georgie Aguirre-Sacasa promised a legal challenge or simply pressing on to the ballot box to allow full beer and wine sales immediately without having to buy out nearby liquor stores.
In a statement issued after the signing, Aguirre-Sacasa said the bill “will not stand the test of time” and opponents continue to weigh their options.

It is deeply disappointing that Governor Hickenlooper signed this flawed and unconstitutional legislation that only protects a handful of big liquor stores and liquor lobbyists to become law. First the legislature, and now the Governor, have denied Coloradan consumers what they want and deserve: real beer AND wine in grocery stores.

For their part, Keep Colorado Unique (which used to be Keep Colorado Local) praised the decision.
This historic compromise protects local small businesses and Colorado’s unique craft brewing culture while allowing the phase-in of alcohol sales in grocery stores. We thank the Governor for his commitment to small businesses and urge King Soopers and Safeway to drop their onerous initiatives so that we can all focus our energy on growing Colorado businesses.