Colorado’s liquor laws are patently unfair to independent local liquor stores like mine. I have been an owner of Applejack Wine & Spirits since 1994, having joined my father-in-law in the business that he bought in 1980.
Over the last 40+ years, my family has worked hard to establish and grow the business. We are part of the Colorado community. But, without Proposition 124, that may soon change.
Until 2016, all liquor stores operated under the same rules, the same laws. Those laws allowed Colorado to have some of the most competitive stores in the country, with low prices and huge selection.
That ended in 2016 when a slew of national big-box chains prevailed in a campaign to change our liquor laws to their benefit — at the expense of every neighborhood liquor store in Colorado, including mine. Seemingly overnight, big-box stores with a pharmacy had access to more liquor licenses than did Colorado’s independent local retailers.
Under the current law, those big-box retailers are allowed eight liquor licenses and locations; local liquor stores are allowed three – less than half as many as our competitors. To make matters worse, within a few years the law grants them an unlimited number of licenses at their hundreds of locations, while stores like mine will be capped at 4. The inequity is clear.
That unfair advantage in the current law means national big-box retailers will quickly come to dominate the market at the expense of the locally owned stores we see today. The big-box retailers will be allowed to multiply while independent stores like ours are denied the opportunity to grow and compete — unless Proposition 124 is passed.
For me, as an owner of Applejack Wine & Spirits – a store that first opened in 1961, before I-70 was completed past Kipling – the failure of Proposition 124 would mean the business my family has worked so hard to grow and serve our community would be destined to wither and die. It would mean there is nothing to hand down to the next generation. How can I ask my kids to come into a business I know would be pulverized by these big-box retailers? What two generations have built would end with me. That’s not an outcome I anticipated.
For our customers, it would mean higher prices and dwindled selection as the big-box retailers wipe out local liquor stores and establish a monopoly. The competitive retail environment would vaporize.
Proposition 124 can stop this demolition and ensure that customers continue to have competitive prices, quality service and great selection.
Colorado craft brewers and distillers have thrived in our independent market solely because stores like ours were open to carrying local brands. No one can honestly believe the buyers in Bentonville, Arkansas, or Cincinnati, Ohio, will care at all about the new startups in the Colorado craft market. How much shelf space will they have for beer, wine and spirits next to the dog food? Will they be willing to take a chance on a Colorado start-up the way Applejack did with New Belgium, Breckenridge Brewery, Wynkoop beer and so many others? I doubt it.
Proposition 124 seeks to keep a competitive retail environment by ensuring a level playing field. It will ensure that when the big-box retailers are allowed 8 licenses, Applejack and every other store like ours can also have 8 licenses. When those big-box stores have licenses for 20, 30, or an unlimited number of stores, every liquor store in the state will have the same opportunity. In short, parity.
Proposition 124 will allow entrepreneurs with new ideas to open stores without restrictions on growth. By leveling the playing field, it will allow stores like mine to compete.
Proposition 124 takes a slow, methodical approach to adding more licenses. And it stops our gradual but certain death at the hands of the national big-box retailers.
If our local liquor stores and our craft beverage industry are to continue to compete and thrive, our laws must treat all retailers fairly and equally. That’s why I am voting yes on Proposition 124 and respectfully ask you to do the same.
Jim Shpall, of Englewood, is an owner and the CEO of Applejack Wine & Spirits.
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