Liquor store owners deal with impacts of Colorado allowing full-strength beer in grocery stores

John F. Russell
Steamboat Pilot
In January full-strength beer found its place on the shelves of grocery and convenience stores across Colorado.
Kristin Anderson/Vail Daily

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Liquor store owner Greg Nealy said he immediately felt the impact of a new Colorado law that allows shoppers to buy full-strength beer at grocery and convenience stores.

“It’s been dramatic,” said Nealy, who is one of the owners of Central Park Liquor in Steamboat Springs. “The piece of the pie doesn’t get any bigger — it just gets more spread out. With every business now selling full-strength beer, it just takes away from the licenses that had it previously.”

Nealy said their store has been forced to lay off two employees and reduce their marketing budget.

“It’s been very impactful,” Nealy said.

The new law went into effect Jan. 1. Before the change, grocery and convenience stores were only allowed to sell 3.2 beer, and now, their liquor licenses allow them to sell full-strength beer.

Support Local Journalism

“It’s all about convenience now,” Nealy said. “Every Kum & Go, every Loaf ‘N Jug, every grocery store now has full-strength beer. We are still advertising the cheapest prices in town, by far, and if they do advertise a ridiculous price, we still match it … but it’s a tough road to hoe.”

In addition to stores that had existing licenses to sell 3.2 beer, Space Station convenience store and Natural Grocers have both applied for liquor licenses to sell full-strength beer, according to Steamboat Springs City Clerk Julie Franklin

Scott Nielsen, manager of Ski Haus Liquor, said his business has also been affected by the liquor law change. He explained that the change created more competition in an already tough market with eight liquor stores located in Steamboat.

“You can definitely see it,” Nielson said. “It’s just a matter of convenience for the people who are there shopping that don’t want to make two stops and also for tourists because it’s such second nature. Most states have both liquor and beer in grocery stores, and that is what customers expect. They are usually looking for wine and liquor there too and are amazed when they can’t find it.”

Adam Williamson, a spokesperson for City Market, said the majority of Kroger stores in Colorado are now offering full-strength beer.

“Our customers are loving local craft beer and it shows, with over half of our sales being craft,” Williamson said. “Each store has offerings based on the unique neighborhood it serves. We are working on getting some local Steamboat craft items in the store as they are finishing getting the set-up completed.”

City Market in Steamboat is also expanding its refrigerated section where beer is sold.

“The beer section, for simple terms, is expanding,” Williamson said.

Both Nealy and Nielsen insist customers will find a higher level of service and knowledge about beer and wine in their stores.

“We don’t sell food or diapers or milk or anything like that,” Nealy said, “Do you want to buy your beer from the guys stocking lettuce, or do you want to come into a store where we hire people and educate people and have all the answers?”

“We have to focus on customer service and really forge those relationships with people coming in, and the local people for sure, and give them a reason to want to come back,” Nielsen added. “That’s why we live here (in Steamboat) for smaller, more intimate interactions, and I think that is what we try to give people here — better service and product knowledge.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

Support Local Journalism