Members of our Community Editorial Board, a group of community residents who are committed to and passionate about local issues, answer the following question: Colorado voters are being asked to consider three ballot initiatives — Proposals 124, 125, and 126 — the would expand wine sales, liquor chains and third-party alcohol supplies. Your opinion?
Alcohol has a long history intense government intervention. In 1920, the 18th Amendment, which banned the sale of most liquor, went into effect statewide and remained in effect until 1933, when it was repealed, leaving control of the liquor industry to the states.
Part of my legal practice has been in the area of alcohol law – primarily helping clients acquire alcohol licenses. To say it is a Byzantine process is an understatement. Most states’ liquor laws have had an old-fashioned moral basis that has morphed from protecting dependent wives and children from the economic ruin caused by alcoholic husbands who spend their paychecks in saloons to protecting the wallets of the state’s liquor industry.
For example, local liquor authorities — which must approve the granting of any liquor license after a hearing — may deny an applicant a tavern license because pre-existing bars in the neighborhood are “unduly concentrated.” There is no other industry that has successfully codified such anti-competitive regulations. In this day and age of business, it is incongruous that there is a limit to how many liquor stores an individual or business can own.
If there has been a bright side to the past few COVID years, it has been the modernization of our state’s liquor laws to better reflect consumer needs and lifestyles. Emergency laws were passed to prevent the closure of restaurants. In addition to closing streets to allow restaurants to move tables outside, new liquor regulations allowed restaurants to sell “to-go” cocktails, and bars and restaurants could sell entire bottles of wine and liquor “to-go.”
These current proposals will continue to modernize the way liquor is sold in Colorado, and none of them are unique. Many of us have experienced the convenience of picking up a bottle of wine at a California supermarket. Those of us who’ve been to New Orleans couldn’t help but notice the crowds of tourists walking down Bourbon Street, Go cups in hand. And as members of the Amazon era, it only makes sense to have spirits shipped to our homes along with everything else we buy.
Every industry is disrupted by the tide of change – just ask commercial landlords as their retail tenants are threatened by internet sales and office workers won’t return to the office as COVID subsides. Business isn’t easy, but we’re adapting and moving on.
Fern O’Brien, [email protected]
There was a time – cue my kids eye rolls – when a road trip outside the county line was an opportunity to experience something different. Hardware stores, drug stores, restaurants, gas stations, liquor stores, and other retail outlets operated independently. Some had better service, some had different products and supported different suppliers, some were sole proprietorships and others were family run, some paid better than others, and they all offered an opportunity for an entrepreneur to run a small business.
But then came the “progress” of economies of scale, cookie-cutter consistency, vertical integration, and a global supply chain. The new consistency felt both innovative and reassuring. Lower prices, convenience and new jobs seemed to outweigh the loss of small businesses. Fast forward three decades and now you can buy the same bag of generic potato chips for about the same price in about the same aisle at any convenience store or supermarket in the United States. The ubiquity of low-paying jobs in big businesses, the lack of entrepreneurial opportunity, and the concentrated power of a few have demoralized many and widened the income gap. America’s bitter political divisions are fueled in part by some of these changes, and recent events have cast doubt on the resilience of a global supply chain.
By a fluke of Colorado liquor laws, this retail sector has been shielded from some of these advances. But recent legislation to expand beer sales has wiped out those protections. Proposals 124 and 125 will do so in relation to wine, which should be the last straw for independent beer and wine shops. After Proposition 125 is passed, Walmart and Amazon headquarters will be busy with the national wine merchants trying to seal their control over Colorado. Proposition 124 will allow ownership concentration for anything that survives supermarket competition. How “convenient” do we really have to be when buying wine and what external costs are incurred by lowering the price of wine? Apparently two-buck chuck isn’t cheap enough – twenty-pesos bezos anyone?
It’s easy to shrug your shoulders and let the inevitable happen. A few good wine merchants will survive, just like a few bison survived up in Yellowstone. But maybe it’s time to backtrack a little. Maybe even a lot. I’m willing to take a few extra steps and pay a few cents more for my wine.
Andrew Shoemaker, [email protected]
Any of the suggestions expands our freedom, reduces regulations and lowers the cost of our beloved spirits.
Prop 124 expands the number of storefronts a business can have from three to eight and removes all restrictions by 2037 – 15 years from now! This is a generous sunset period. The argument against this proposal is that it could threaten the operations of individual stores, but why should liquor stores get special protections?
I recently retired and have always dreamed of owning my own bookstore. I love books and have an extensive library – much to the chagrin of my wife. But she has come to terms with that, because books are my passion. But small independent bookstores are a tough business, a lot more so these days, mostly because of Amazon. Should we legislate to protect small bookstores? Or should we let the market, i.e. the people, decide?
Prop 125 allows grocery stores to sell wine. Yes, please. If you need more help making that decision, turn to an opponent who predicted grocery stores would only sell the most popular wines. “There’s no way they can help you,” said the owner of a small liquor store. Exactly, the little shopkeeper doesn’t have to worry about that.
It’s not all bad for small businesses, however. Prop 126 allows delivery services to transport alcohol. Currently, only stores that have enough staff to support their own deliveries can do this, protecting larger stores from competition from smaller stores. More competition means more convenience and lower prices for everyone.
Protectionism is great for those being protected, but worse for everyone else. The sheltered class is organized, vocal, and influential, but they speak for a tiny percentage of us. While the masses are sympathetic to small shops, they don’t want to make life more complicated and expensive for themselves and everyone else. If we protect small liquor stores, why not protect small bookstores too? And small pharmacies? And small climbing shops?
Deciding who gets protection and what goods and services are sold is the very definition of socialism. While the free market can be cruel, it is efficient and has historically provided the highest standard of living. But more importantly, it offers the highest degree of freedom. While freedom is not the be-all and end-all, it is certainly the right position to start thinking.
The main group opposing these measures is Keeping Colorado Local. They emphasize that 60% of their members are women or minorities. That is not relevant. Identity politics is the path to division. Resist such nonsense at all costs.
The world is gray and details matter, but let’s default to freedom.
Bill Wright, [email protected]