Jan 292009
Authors: Alex Stephens

If you care about the price of beer, where you can buy your beer and the welfare of Colorado’s citizens (you included out of state students), continue reading.

On the agenda for this session of the Colorado legislature is a bill that has the potential to change your beer purchasing habits.

The beer bill, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, and Rep. Liane McFadyen, D-Pueblo, would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell full strength beer. While this might sound like great news to most of us, for convenience’s sake, the ramifications of such a law need to be considered.

Since liquor sales became legal on Sundays last year, near-beer Sunday sales at grocery stores have dropped 16 percent while full beer Sunday sales jumped 19 percent for liquor stores, according to the Greeley Tribune. The Sunday law gave a substantial boost to the liquor industry of Colorado while harming a small fraction of grocery store profit.

Now the grocery industry is fighting to win back those lost dollars by lobbying to have liquor store beer available in their sector.

Suits from the major grocery operations, Kroger, Safeway, Wal-Mart and others, flew to our Capitol earlier this month to pitch their case for the full-beer privilege. Their argument goes that the prohibition era law of preventing grocery stores from selling full beer is outdated, hurting their sales and employment. If they were allowed to sell the real stuff, the profit turned could be made into jobs.

Similarly, convenience stores like 7- eleven are lobbying for the right to sell full-beer in their stores as well, citing substantially decreased Sunday sales as a result of the Sunday liquor sale law. Because of decreased sales, managers have had to cut hours for employees or make tough layoffs.

However, the harm such a law might cause stands to outweigh the benefits offered by corporate grocers.

Small liquor stores would most likely lose a high portion of their beer sales, which is a substantial source (often 50 percent or more) of their livelihood.

That means, at best, workers could be laid off. At worst, it could cause stores to go under. During an economic recession, that would be very unwelcome news to our state.

Large grocery stores, like Safeway and Wal-Mart, have an edge on smaller liquor stores because they can buy in bulk, which means they are able to undercut their competition.

After all, if you go to Wal-Mart for your weekly supply of essentials, why would you want to make a second trip to a liquor store only to pay 15 to 30 percent more for the same generic beer available to you where your food is sold?

Here’s one argument why: When you buy mass produced goods at Wal-Mart, chances are your money is flowing out of Colorado (with few possible exceptions, like produce).

Also, if large grocers gained control of the beer market, many of the smaller 110 breweries in Colorado, like New Belgium, would indirectly be hurt.

If the small store that carries their brew goes out of business and Wal-Mart refuses to carry it, the brewer suffers as well. Jeff Crabtree, of Crabtree Brewery in Greeley, estimates that it would cost an extra $2 per six-pack if large chains sold his microbrew, if they did so at all.

On the other hand, 41 other states in America sell whole varieties of alcohol at grocery stores, including full-beer, so why not Colorado? Through that lens our near-beer law does seem very antiquated and coddling toward our liquor stores.

Last year a similar bill to this was voted down, but last year our economy wasn’t in nearly the state it is today. Our lawmakers should do their best to vote in a utilitarian manner so that the fewest jobs are lost (if that’s at all possible to estimate).

Judging by the direction of the current economic wind, their best bet might be to leave this issue alone for now and vote against it.

Alex Stephens is a senior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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