DENVER — For a moment during the COVID pandemic, everything stopped. Businesses were closed, employees were sent home and classes were held remotely for students. Even some of the most bustling streets in Denver looked like a ghost town as the pandemic brought things to a halt.
Quickly after, though, businesses started to adapt and find new ways to serve people in the midst of a health emergency. For restaurants, that meant focusing more of their efforts on to-go orders as well as delivery.
In an effort to help, Colorado legislators passed a law in 2020 allowing for restaurants to temporarily offer to-go alcohol. The next year, legislators extended that window for another four years, allowing restaurants to offer to-go alcohol until 2025.
Now, a ballot question in November asks voters whether they want to make that change permanent and extend it to other businesses. It is one of three alcohol-related measures on November's ballot.
What Proposition 126 does
Proposition 126 would allow third-party companies like DoorDash and Instacart to deliver alcohol to customers on behalf of grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, bars, restaurants and more. It would also permanently allow for takeout and delivery from restaurants.
A Liquor Lifeline
Even two years later, small restaurants like Las Hijas de Chilanga are still working to recover from the pandemic. Owner Ivonne Bringas bought the restaurant not long before the pandemic started and supports the idea of permanent alcohol delivery and takeout.
The restaurant didn’t have a liquor license during the pandemic but is now in the process of applying for one to help with its economic recovery. Bringas believes permanent takeout would expand her customer base.
“We want to recuperate what we lost during COVID because we had just started to own the business when COVID started and we lost employees, and because it impacted us so much we need this,” Bringas said.
She also supports the idea of third-party companies being able to deliver the alcohol because she says she doesn’t have the staffing or a company car to be able to offer a service like that on her own.
“As the owner of this business it’s a good opportunity. I can sell it and give it to the driver and so it’s very practical and very good for all of us,” Bringas said.
Las Hijas De Chilanga isn’t alone with its staffing struggles. John Jarmillo, the president of the Hispanic Restaurant Association, says the temporary law that the legislature passed allowing for to-go alcohol benefitted bigger businesses while leaving small restaurants behind.
“Bigger restaurants that already have that infrastructure in place. It's relatively easy for them to pivot, whereas the smaller restaurants, they didn't know what to do,” Jarmillo said.
He believes this ballot measure will save the small businesses money while allowing them to compete with the larger restaurants.
“They can just focus on making the drink and the and the food, doing what they do best,” Jarmillo said.
Jarmillo says he has talked to numerous restaurants in the months leading up to the November election about this ballot proposal and he hasn’t found anyone who opposes it.
He also believes that having alcohol delivered will be safer for people and could lead to fewer instances of drinking and driving since people can get the alcohol at home.
Beyond the labor savings, Michelle Lyng, a spokesperson for groups supporting the ballot initiative, says restaurants will also see savings because they won’t have to worry about liability insurance for delivering the alcohol.
“With a third-party system, you're looking at third parties like DoorDash, or Instacart, they can deliver and it's their liquor license. And so, there's less risk for restaurants, and a safer process as well,” Lyng said. “This opens up a whole new revenue stream for a lot of businesses without adding additional overhead.”
She considers the measure a minute change to the law that could have big impacts for businesses.
In the end, with so many people relying on delivery for everything from dinner to groceries to clothing during the pandemic, she insists it’s time for restaurants and other liquor retailers to be able to keep up with the technology and the times for the sake of convenience.
Downsides of Delivery
While restaurants and some retailers like grocery stores support the idea, many liquor stores are opposing it, saying this will hurt their bottom line.
Josh Beard is the co-owner and general manager of Mulberry Max in Fort Collins. He contends that people already have an alcohol delivery service with liquor stores, so convenience isn’t a factor.
Additionally, he says liquor stores that deliver have strict standards for their employees to make sure the alcohol doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
“We have to have an employee of our store drive one of our vehicles to deliver to someone that is at least 21 years old, and we're legally obligated not to sell to anyone who is visibly intoxicated or can't produce a valid ID. So, it's on us to log every transaction, log every driver's license number,” Beard said.
He worries that there will be little accountability or oversight on these third-party delivery companies to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors or someone who is too drunk.
Chris Fine, the executive director for the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, also worries about the accountability aspects of the ballot measure.
Currently, when alcohol gets into the wrong hands, the liquor store will face either a large fine or a loss of its license altogether. Fine is not confident that same scrutiny will apply to third-party delivery and says these major businesses would be able to easily handle the fines.
“There is no accountability. Sure, they could probably fire the (driver) but he or she's just a gig worker. They have about 10 more that they can hire and Kroger's not going to lose their liquor license,” Fine said.
There is a stipulation in the ballot measure that delivery companies must obtain a liquor delivery permit and the proposal would require the drivers to be at least 21, complete a certification program, verify the recipient’s legal age and refuse delivery to anyone who is visibly intoxicated. It also makes the delivery companies and the workers liable for alcohol getting into the wrong hands.
Across the state, there are about 1,600 mom-and-pop wine and spirit stores.
While this proposal could help some small businesses like restaurants, there is also a worry that with grocery stores and convenience stores being able to deliver alcohol, many of the mom-and-pop liquor stores will experience a decline in sales and could be forced to lay off staff or shut down altogether.
The pandemic changed the way consumers across Colorado shop. From household items to dinner to groceries and even alcohol, delivery has become a major part of the shopper experience.
In November, it will be up to voters to decide whether they want alcohol delivery to stick around permanently.
Full ballot guide
Editor's Note: Denver7 360 | In-Depth explores multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 In-Depth stories, email us at email@example.com or use this form. See more 360 | In-Depth stories here.