Vail, Eagle County liquor stores fret about ballot measure that would allow wine sales in grocery stores

Passage of Initiative 121 could cut choice, endanger local businesses, they say

Aaron Smith, a sales associate at Boone's Wine & Spirits in Eagle, rings up a bottle of wine Wednesday. Like many local alcohol retailers, Boone’s devotes a good portion of its shelf space to wine.
Nate Peterson/Vail Daily

A ballot initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot would allow wine sales in grocery and convenience stores. Local liquor retailers don’t think much of the idea.

Jonathan Staufer for the past 20 years has owned Grappa, a wine and liquor store in Vail Village. Staufer said voters need to consider what they might gain, or lose, if the ballot measure passes.

Coming Nov. 8

Colorado voters this fall will be asked three ballot questions relating to alcohol sales.

Initiative 96 would increase the number of retail liquor licenses a Colorado entity can hold from two to eight in 2023, and gradually increase to an unlimited number after 2037.

Initiative 121 would allow grocery and convenience stores licensed to sell beer to also sell wine beginning in March of 2023.

Initiative 122 would allow third-party delivery of alcoholic beverages.

“People think that what they’re going to gain is better pricing and more convenience,” Staufer said. But the loss, he said, will be a decline in the number of local retailers, all of which put a lot of effort into providing a good selection of product.

Like many retailers, Boone’s Wine and Spirits in Eagle devotes a good portion of its shelf space to wine. Boone’s owner Geoff Moser said having wine for sale at nearby City Market would hurt his locally-owned store, and could result in the loss of local jobs.

Moser said his store was hurt by allowing grocery stores to sell full-strength beer. If wine sales are allowed, Moser believes his customer base will take another hit.

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“We will lose customers who thrive on convenience and don’t care about customer service,” Moser said.

Staufer said the overall wine industry could be hurt by grocery store sales. The wine inventory in California grocery stores is dominated by big firms that sell wine under a number of different labels.

Allowing grocery store wine sales in Colorado will “further the commodification of the wine industry,” he said. “Instead of a universe of wine makers, we’ll have a bulk commodity.”

Trent Olsen is the general manager of Riverwalk Wine and Spirits in Edwards. That store is right next door to the Village Market grocery store, which doesn’t sell beer, and probably won’t sell wine if allowed to.

Olsen said he opposes the ballot measure, but understands if the average consumer sees the proposal as one that could make shopping more convenient.

But, he noted, grocery store employees won’t be able to offer the same level of customer service a good liquor store can. Someone who wants to pair a wine with dinner at a price point probably won’t be able to get that advice at a supermarket.

Olsen said his store saw a bit of a swing back in business after grocery stores were allowed to sell full strength beer. For one thing, a trip for a six-pack is a lot quicker going to the local liquor store than the local supermarket.

Olsen, like Moser, stressed the customer service element of his business. Moser added there’s also a safety element. In his view, it may be easier for an underage buyer to slip through the cracks at a grocery store than at his business.

“People will lose their jobs, their livings, all for convenience’s sake,” Moser said. “It’s a shame that could possibly happen.”

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