Vail Daily column: Keep Colorado Local effort important to small businesses | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Keep Colorado Local effort important to small businesses

I like beer. I especially like Colorado beer, and I'm afraid the success of microbreweries throughout Colorado (as well as local wineries, craft distilleries and locally owned liquor stores) is being put at risk.

What could possibly derail the massive growth of craft beer, wine and spirits we've seen in Colorado? Colorado, after all, has a vibrant entrepreneurial culture that allows small businesses to flourish. Coloradans like our local products, and we like our hometown brews; craft beer leaders including New Belgium Brewery, Avery and Oskar Blues call Colorado home, and closer to home here in the Vail Valley, we're fortunate to have Crazy Mountain Brewing Co., Bonfire Brewery, Vail Brewing Co. and 7 Hermits.

Colorado's local culture and craft beer momentum seemingly can't be stopped. Recent expansions in Denver (Crazy Mountain Brewing), Littleton (Breckenridge Brewery), Boulder (Avery) and more show the economic impacts of local breweries. This demand is driven by consumer desire for local products, and is supported by locally owned and operated liquor stores providing shelf space for new, emerging breweries.

However, a proposed change in Colorado's liquor laws could easily deteriorate the success of small, locally owned liquor stores by allowing chain stores to circumvent current law by selling full-strength beer.

Specifically, grocery and convenience stores (headquartered out-of-state) have put forward plans which would more than double the number of retail outlets selling beer and wine (and they haven't ruled out including spirits). This proposed rule change would also make grocery and convenience stores the only outlets that could:

• Own multiple liquor licenses.

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• Sell food, gas, guns and other non-liquor items alongside alcohol.

• Ignore limits on how close liquor can be sold to schools.

• Employ under-age clerks.

These are significant changes to the current level playing field, where one owner equals one liquor license. The proposed change would mean grocery and convenience stores have unique and significant advantages over Colorado's 1,600 independent liquor stores. These independent liquor stores are in many ways the unsung heroes of the craft beverage industry — providing access and promotion to new local products, and they play a vital role in helping breweries and craft distillers establish themselves.

Sure, it sounds good to be able to pick up your beer while you're shopping at the grocery store. But there's just more to it than that. Small breweries survive and thrive because of relationships with small independent liquor stores. They're willing to carry local beers — even the most limited-run and unique beers — which gives consumers access to them. So when local liquor stores are at risk, that means Colorado's craft breweries, local wineries and craft distilleries are under attack, too. And, it's not just limited to these establishments; our Colorado support of locally based products and our unique entrepreneurial culture are at risk as well.

The state legislature have regularly stood up against the corporate liquor grab that threatens local businesses and Colorado's craft culture, which includes more than 300 craft breweries, 130 wineries and 70 distilleries. Gov. Hickenlooper, a former brewery owner, agrees and recently told the state legislature, "I think the worry is that if you have it in supermarkets, beer and wine will be the large chains will just cut deals with a few of the craft breweries, perhaps the ones owned by the larger breweries and the choice and the diversity will change dramatically."

We all love convenience. Convenience is good, and it's easy. Buying beer at the grocery store certainly qualifies as convenient. But the current system isn't broke, so why fix it? I don't think convenience is a good enough reason to risk Colorado's craft beverage and small business culture by changing the currently equal playing field of one liquor license per owner.

Looking to stand up and support small business in the Vail Valley and throughout Colorado? When given the choice, vote to Keep Colorado Local. It's about more than beer. It's about supporting Colorado's entrepreneurial culture and supporting small businesses. Learn more at KeepCoLocal.com

Chris Romer is president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership