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Battle brewing over bid to end 3.2 beer sales in Colorado

Roger FillionRocky Mountain NewsDenver, CO Colorado

Liquor stores resist expansion of beer outletsBy (Contact)Published January 12, 2009 at 12:05 a.m.Text size * 5 Comments * Email * PrintMore Colorado GovernmentDENVER, Colorado – Local grocery and convenience store operators are looking to Colorado lawmakers to ban “3.2” beer this year so they can stock regular beer on their shelves.But expect a fight.Grocery and convenience store advocates say Colorado’s decades-old 3.2 beer law is antiquated and puts them at a competitive disadvantage with liquor stores, which now can open on Sundays and sell full- strength beer.Lawmakers in coming weeks are expected to offer a bill banning 3.2 beer and allowing grocery and convenience stores such as 7-Eleven to sell regular brew.The grocery and convenience store operators are likely to encounter opposition from liquor store owners, liquor wholesalers and others.They argue that grocery and convenience store sales of regular beer would shutter many of the state’s more than 1,600 liquor stores and throw workers out of jobs.”It will be a lively and competitive bill,” predicted Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, a sponsor of the planned legislation.Aside from Colorado, five other states have rules governing sales of 3.2 beer: Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah.Ironically, 3.2 beer is not much different from many regular domestic lagers on liquor store shelves. The alcohol content of regular beers is measured by volume, while with 3.2 beers it’s measured by weight.Coors Light and Bud Light, for example, have an alcohol content of 4.2 percent by volume, according to Realbeer.com. If 3.2 beer was measured the same way, its alcohol content would be listed at 4 percent.The 3.2 measure would follow a bill that Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law last year that made Colorado the 35th state to allow liquor stores to sell booze on Sundays. The state had banned Sunday liquor sales since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.Since the law took effect last July, grocery and convenience store operators have complained that their sales of 3.2 beer have tanked – especially on Sundays.Before the Sunday law took effect, the only beer consumers could buy on Sundays was 3.2 beer sold at grocery and convenience stores.”It totally killed the Sunday beer sales,” Sandip Mali, operator of two 7-Eleven franchises in Denver and Thornton, said of the Sunday liquor law. “After the legislation passed there was an awareness that 3.2 beer was different.”Since the new law, Mali said his overall sales of 3.2 beer at both stores have plunged more than 75 percent.”We were selling roughly $1,000 or more a week at each store. We’re down to about $200,” said Mali.Liquor store owners counter that grocery and convenience store operators want to win the right to sell regular beer so they can next demand the right to sell wine and liquor, too.”This is a change they’re pursuing to get full-strength beer because that would give them an opportunity to have wine and liquor follow,” said Kim Schottleutner, owner of DTC Wine & Spirits near the Denver Tech Center.Colorado lawmakers killed a bill last year that would have allowed grocery stores, gasoline convenience stores and big retailers such as Wal-Mart to sell full-strength beer and wine in Colorado.Schottleutner said liquor stores generally depend on beer sales for 30 percent to 50 percent of their revenue. Beer accounts for 35 percent of the sales at his store.”Our operating revenue would be dramatically affected,” said Schottleutner, who employs seven people. “We’re going to jeopardize the revenue of many liquor stores.”fillionr@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-2467The legislation* What: State lawmakers are expected to take up a bill to end 3.2 beer sales and allow grocery and convenience stores to sell regular beer.* How: The bill automatically would convert every 3.2 beer license to a license for full- strength beer. Any retailer with a 3.2 license could sell regular beer. Retailers that don’t sell beer could seek a full-strength license.* When: On or about July 1, if passed.* Who: Supporters include grocery and convenience store operators such as 7-Eleven.Opponents include liquor store owners, liquor wholesalers, craft brewers and the distilled spirits industry.* Sponsors: Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver; Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo


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