Colorado C-stores Take Step Toward Full-Strength Beer

Colorado’s convenience-store owners won a victory this week when the state’s House Business Affairs and Labor Committee approved a measure Wednesday that would allow c-stores of under 5,000 feet to sell products with a higher alcoholic content than the reduced-strength beer that they now are limited to selling, Denver Business Journal.

The proposal won by a 7-4 vote and follows other bills that would have expanded alcohol sales died two straight years in legislative committees.

So what was different this time around? The bill, HB 1186, sponsored by Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, does not give the same sales allowances to grocery stores, which are pushing a separate bill this year to allow them to buy liquor stores’ licenses.

And it also limits convenience stores to selling only full-strength beer rather than being able to offer wine or spirits to customers. Liston cited those two factors as having a big difference on getting the bill passed. Last year the committee had rejected a bill to allow beer and wine sales at convenience and grocery stores by a similar margin.

Committee members heard hours of testimony from craft brewers and liquor-store owners that allowing convenience stores to tap into a product now available only at liquor stores will harm both of their industries and cost jobs during a recession.

But the five Republicans and two Democrats who supported the measure seemed more persuaded by convenience-store owners who said they’ve already had to lay off staff after beer sales dropped as much as 90% since July 2008. That was when state law was changed to allow liquor stores to open on Sundays, taking away the biggest day of sales for reduced-strength beer carriers who previously had no competition.

“I used to sell $1,000 to $1,500 a day in beer,” said Scott Paulson, owner of Silco Oil Co., which owns and operates 16 Colorado convenience stores. “Now I don’t sell $1,500 in beer a month.”

For nearly two years c-store owners have said they are at a competitive disadvantage because customers aren’t going to buy reduced-alcohol beer if they can go to a liquor store that operates the same hours and purchase a full product.

But liquor stores argue allowing chain stores like 7-Eleven and Circle K to get into the full-strength beer business when liquor store operators are limited to owning just one facility would hurt liquor stores and in turn local breweries.

The bill still has a long way to go. Next it will have to go through another committee and the House before getting to the Senate, where President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, has said he opposes changing Colorado’s alcohol laws.

But Friday’s hearing, which took more than six hours, marked a first step that similar bills have never been able to make. “We have compromised slightly to take a good bill and make it better,” Liston said.





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