DENVER — Of the three alcohol-related ballot initiatives voters will face in November, Proposition 124 is likely the easiest to overlook. The question is simply not as appealing or as understandable as the measures dealing with alcohol delivery or wine in grocery stores.
Nevertheless, this measure is one the business community is paying close attention to since it could significantly change how many stores are allowed to sell alcohol and who would be able to own them.
Because of that, millions of dollars and major outside influence are pouring into this campaign.
What Proposition 124 Does
Proposition 124 asks voters if they want to allow retail liquor stores to apply to state and local governments for the ability to be able to open additional locations.
The number of stores someone could own in the state would increase gradually, starting at eight when the measure passes, then jumping to 13 in 2027, then 20 in 2032, and by 2037, the owner would be able to have an unlimited number of retail liquor licenses.
The More the Merrier
For David Ross, the owner and operator of Big Fella Wine and Liquor in Bennett, this proposition offers an opportunity for his store to expand.
Ross opened up shop about four years ago after retiring from the corporate world and says what was supposed to be a hobby has quickly turned into a booming business.
Big Fella is the largest liquor store in the area; Ross says he even gets returning customers driving in from out of state to shop at his store. Now, he would love to open up a second location.
“I’d love to have a 'Big Fella Too,' or a 'Little Fella.' I haven't thought about how I named them yet. But I definitely would like to expand,” Ross said.
Currently, retail liquor stores are limited to three locations per licensee, with one additional location being allowed starting in 2027.
Ross, however, is limited to one because he obtained his first liquor license more recently. In 2016, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 197, which dictated the gradual increase in liquor licenses owners are allowed to hold from one to four.
However, C.R. 44.3.409 says the law only applies to those who owned their first retail liquor license before 2016.
Meanwhile, liquor-licensed drugstores like Costco, King Soopers or Sam’s Club saw their licenses gradually increase — from one in 2016, to five in 2017, to 8 this year, and so on. By 2037, these types of stores would be able to have an unlimited number of liquor licenses.
Ross, however, is stuck at one license permanently unless he tries to buy the license from another store that acquired theirs prior to 2017. He supports Proposition 124 because he says it will give newer stores like his a chance to expand and compete.
“It's about leveling the playing field and making sure that I could compete and have just as many licenses as my competitor. Like I like to tell people every day, it's like playing a game of baseball. They currently have a wooden bat. I have a wiffle ball bat,” he said.
Ross understands that this could create more competition, with more stores possibly being allowed to open up — particularly big box retailers.
However, he says smaller liquor stores offer more variety, better customer service, more product knowledge and something most major retailers don’t: a wide selection of local craft beverages.
“We have a lot of great craft in the state that maybe some people are aware of,” Ross said. “If they don't have a large distribution company to deliver it, a lot of the smaller ones, they rely on us, the independent owners, to drive and go pick it up and bring that product into our stores.”
Too Much of a Good Thing
Many other smaller liquor stores are opposed to the measure, though, saying this could ultimately drive them out of business.
Carolyn Joy is the owner of Joy Wine and Spirits in Denver, a three-generation store that also only features one location.
“This is really frustrating for me, especially because as a child, I remember my father having this same battle,” she said.
She worries that if voters pass this measure, some stores will be forced to go out of business while others will have to find other cost-cutting measures or even lay off employees as more customers steer toward bigger-named businesses.
Unlike Ross, Joy doesn’t have the capability or desire to try to open a second location and she worries this ballot measure will come down to who has the most money.
“What that means for a small business like mine, it really is devastating because I don't have the means to invest in additional businesses. This is my business,” she said.
Joy also says this could potentially mean a lot more liquor stores in neighborhoods and a lot more alcohol overall in the community.
She wants Coloradans to vote no on this measure for the sake of preserving small businesses.
Big Money Ballot Question
While Proposition 124 is not the most interesting measure on the November ballot, it is seeing some big money come in for the campaign, mostly from out of state.
The group behind the measure, Coloradans for Consumer Choice and Retail Fairness, showed in its October financial filings with the state that it has raised nearly $7 million to spend on this campaign alone.
Of that money, $5,323,000 comes from Colorado Wine and Spirits, which shares the same address for its headquarters in Maryland as Total Wine and More.
Meanwhile, U.S. Representative David Trone and his brother Robert have each contributed another $900,000 to the campaign. The brothers are the founders of Total Wine.
“It's really about greed. It's about these huge billion-dollar companies that are coming in and saying, ‘We don't care about the small mom and pops. What we care about is simply profits,’” said Chris Fine, the executive director of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association.
Fine is hoping voters will see through the big-money campaign and vote no on this initiative as well.
Of the 11 statewide ballot initiatives and the three related to alcohol, Proposition 124 is probably one of the easiest to overlook.
However, it could result in one of the biggest changes to Colorado’s liquor laws since the end of prohibition if voters decide to pass it.
For some, it’s about leveling the playing field and allowing more stores and more convenience into the state.
Others are worried this ballot question will be a death blow to hundreds of small liquor stores. Ultimately voters will decide in November whether it’s time to update the state’s liquor laws.
Full ballot guide
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