Independent liquor stores in Colorado stood tall on Election Day as voters rejected three proposals that could have shuttered hundreds of small mom-and-pop shops. “Voters clearly have doubts about whether giant out-of-state corporations would support Colorado’s craft beverage industry like our current local liquor stores do,” says Chris Fine, executive director of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, which represents about 1,600 independent beverage alcohol stores statewide. “The contributing factors to defeating these ballot measures revolved around letting Coloradans know this legislation wasn’t good for our state and was being driven by billion-dollar tech companies who were determined to run mom-and-pop liquor stores out of business.”
Proposition 124 would have increased the number of retail liquor licenses a Colorado entity can hold from two to eight in 2023 and slowly increase to an unlimited number after 2037. “Colorado voters spoke loud and clear that they prefer locally owned stores who provide better service than out-of-state corporate interests who want to have absolute control over the market,” says Carolyn Joy, owner of Joy Wine & Spirits in Denver. “Over 1,650 locally owned stores joined together to stand up against corporations. Our message of supporting local Colorado businesses resonated more with voters.”
Proposition 125, heavily supported by Total Wine & More, would have permitted convenience and grocery stores—such as Walmart, Whole Foods, and Kroger—that are licensed to sell beer to also sell wine beginning in March 2023. Under Colorado law, a single owner cannot operate more than three liquor stores statewide. Beverage alcohol retailers expressed concerns that predatory pricing from national chains could force small retailers to close. “We are thrilled at the decision of voters,” said Josh Robinson, co-owner of Argonaut Wine & Liquor in Denver. “The out-of-state, billion-dollar corporations funding these ballot measures—including DoorDash, Kroger, Safeway, and InstaCart—had no interest in Colorado’s small businesses, the local economy, or the long-term consequences to our communities. Colorado made a good decision on election day.”
A grassroots push called Keeping Colorado Local to educate consumers appeared to have a huge impact on results. Fine and his organization worked with other industry groups and used social media to encourage people to vote against the initiatives. “The current vote difference on proposition 125 represents a 32-point swing from early polling in September,” Fine says.
Proposition 126 would have allowed third-party delivery of alcoholic beverages from companies such as Grubhub and Uber. In Colorado, a beverage alcohol retailer can deliver but it has to be by a company employee who is at least 21 in a company-owned or company-leased vehicle. “After spending a combined total of over $32 million dollars, the proponents of measures 124 and 126 came up short, with voters soundly rejecting their attempted corporate cash grabs,” Fine says. “Keeping Colorado Local mounted an opposition campaign that spent $680,000.”
In 2016, a law was adopted in Colorado permitting grocery stores to sell full-strength beer and incrementally allow stores to sell wine and spirits by 2037. Wine can currently only be bought at licensed liquor stores. If the measures were approved, Fine estimated 500 to 800 stores could have been put out of business. Colorado beverage alcohol retailers are pleased with the rejection of the ballot measures but they’re not going to rest on their laurels. “Obviously we’re not naive enough to think that they won’t try again,” Fine says. “They’re greedy and they don’t care what Colorado voters say. However, it was proven that our state is unique, and big money doesn’t always rule the day.”