Proposition 124 is an expensive fight dividing Colorado’s independent liquor stores

Proposition 124 is an expensive fight dividing Colorado’s independent liquor stores

David Ross said it’s only taken five years for his independent liquor store to become a staple in Bennett, Colorado.

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Bennett is a tiny town that you might overlook if your eyes glaze over while driving east on Interstate 70.

Ross stated that Big Fella Wine and Liquors sponsors the high school football team and Bennett Days community event.

Ross enjoys going to craft breweries all over the state to test the beers that he chooses to sell.

But he says he’s still learning about Colorado’s long and complicated list of liquor laws. And it took him a while to realize he wouldn’t be able to open more locations because of those laws.

“I would love to have multiple liquor stores,” Ross said. “I’m chomping at the bit.”

Ross could expand his business by taking advantage of Proposition 124. Eventually.

If the voters approve, liquor stores can open unlimited locations in Colorado by 2037.

“I’m asking just to have an even playing field,” Ross said. “And that’s why the propositions [are] so important to me.”

Ross says there’s a sense of urgency. Ross claims that full-strength beer sales are being cut by the approval of the grocery and convenience stores located near him. A law was passed by the state legislature to allow grocers in 2037 to start selling wine and spirits.

Budweiser brought its iconic horses to the Capitol in 2018 to celebrate full-strength beer being sold in grocery stores.

“If we don’t grow and change with that and get ourselves in a better position to compete with them, it will put us out of business,” Ross said. “I mean, right now, King Soopers can have more liquor licenses than I do.”

Over in Fort Collins, specialty liquor store owner Matt Dinsmore also sees large grocery stores as a threat to his shop, Wilbur’s Total Beverage.

But Dinsmore doesn’t think letting liquor stores become chains is the answer. He’s actually campaigning against Proposition 124. He fears it will be bad for business.

There is nobody in the state who could scale up the way that some of these [larger] chains can, whether it’s [Total Wine & More] or Amazon or you name it,”Dinsmore stated. “The ability to do that is gone. And so you stomp out this little ecosystem that, quite frankly, we’ve nurtured for 90 years.”

But these two liquor store owners in Bennet and Fort Collins are just pint-sized players in what is becoming one of the election’s most expensive fights.

Total Wine & More, a chain of wineries, is the keg in this fight. This company alone has donated more that $3 million to support the ballot measure. And it’s no mom-and-pop liquor store.

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Total Wine & More owns more than 200 superstores all over the country.

KUNC reached out to the chain’s owners to talk about their huge investment in the election, but they never called back.

Dinsmore, Fort Collins’ Proposition 124 critic, believes that giving Total Wine the green signal to expand could mean that he and others are out of business.

“We’ve seen in states like Minnesota, they basically come in [and] predatory price and drive everybody out of business and then there is no competition,”Dinsmore stated.

Minnesota has nine Total Wine locations, and six small liquor stores have closed, citing the chain’s arrival in their neighborhoods in recent years — that’s according to reporting from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Back in Bennett, Colorado, David Ross’ store is nowhere near the size and scale of Total Wine & More. But he’s fighting for the same thing: a chance to expand his business.

“The total wines, the big box retailers, I don’t care how you define them, they can all have multiple liquor licenses. So my question that always comes back to them is ‘why can’t I?’”

Proposition 124 isn’t the only alcohol question on the ballot. Voters will decide whether grocery stores can sell wine beginning next year. Another question is whether third-party companies such as Doordash or Instacart could deliver booze directly at our homes.

The majority of mom-and-pop liquor store owners oppose these other measures.

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