Critics say beer law could cause microbrews to run dry

Craft brewers and liquor store owners Wednesday argued against a billthat would see convenience stores across the state able to expand their offerings to include full-strength beer. While liquor store owners said the sudden expansion of the market could cause layoffs, and craft brewers predicted a reduction in one of Colorado’s growing industries, legislators said their recent approval of Sunday beer sales had stripped convenience stoires of needed revenue.

State Sen. Betty Boyd

The bill passed 4-2 Wednesday by the Business, Labor and Technology Committee would allow convenience stores with a floor space of 5,000 square feet or less to carry full-strength beer. The bill, as amended, would allow stores such as 7-11, Loaf N’ Jug, and others to carry a full assortment of beer products without applying for a new permit.

“We are being attacked,” said John Bryant, president of Oskar Blues Brewery. “The lobbyists wrote this legislation, it is proposed each year on the independent business people and they come at us and we do our best to defend a great system. This is a cleansing of an economic system in Colorado that works. It makes no sense to change it.”

Bryant said that liquor stores would not be unable to compete against convenience stores that currently line the streets. He said that would mean craft brewers would have to negotiate with corporate entities to try to find space for their products on those shelves, which ultimately would mean many craft brewers would shut their doors or move elsewhere.

Craft brewing has an indirect employment number of 67,000 jobs and an annual economic impact to the state of $12 billion.

April Patel, owner of three 7-11 stores, told the committee that the way she makes her decision on products is based on the profile of her costumer base. She said in stores where she has the opportunity to sell craft beer and the customers wants that product, that is what she brings in.

She said she had to cut employee hours since liquor stores began selling on Sundays.

A representative from Pacific Convenience and Fuel, a company based in California, told the committee that since liquor stores were allowed to open on Sundays his company had lost $1.1 billion in beer revenue.

Another 7-11 owner, who also owned three stores in the Denver area, said he had lost $225,000 on annual gross products since Sunday sales were opened for liquor stores. He said he would be willing to carry whatever craft beer the customers want.

Laura Long
, spokeswoman for Bristol Brewing Company, said small breweries get left out of the equation when chain stores take over a market.

“Under the current system, any true mom and pop liquor store has the opportunity to apply for a liquor license. We are not concerned about that. We are concerned about the Loaf N’ Jugs that are Kroger and all of their decision making is made at the corporate center for Kroger. They are not made at the local level,” Long said.

Pat Ratliff, who was lobbying for the Pueblo Licensed Beverage Association, said she had commissioned top economists to do an analysis of the effects of the bill on liquor stores. She said the loss of jobs in the first three years would be close to 5,000, and as many as 700 stores would close.

“In five years, what we are talking about is the loss of 8,600 jobs,” Ratliff said.

Bill sponsor Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, said that SB 194 would address the imbalances created by Sunday liquor store sales and added the concerns of craft brewers had been addressed through the testimony of convenience store owners who said they would be interested in carrying some craft brews.

Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, and Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, voted against the bill.

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