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'We don't plan to go anywhere': Colorado liquor stores prepare for wine to hit grocery store shelves

Bottles of wine
Posted at 7:49 PM, Feb 16, 2023

ARVADA, Colo. — In just two weeks, Coloradans will be able to pick up a bottle of wine along with their groceries.

On March 1, 2023, voter-approved Proposition 125 will take effect, allowing the sale of wine at grocery and convenience stores. The measure passed narrowly in November, with 50.6% voting yes and 49.4% voting no.

Ben Ammari, co-owner of Vineland Liquors in Arvada, was among those voting against the measure. He was disappointed to see it pass, but also expected it to pass by a wider margin.

“Proposition 125 was super close, which we thought it was going to pass with flying colors. So we did like the support from the Colorado community,” Ammari said. “It was a tough loss, you know, at the end, but I was proud to see that a lot of people were kind of against it. It was a coin flip at the end.”

Ammari, and many other liquor store owners in Colorado, are now having to rethink their business models and prepare for a market with competitors much bigger than them, including major grocery store chains, stocking their shelves with wine. Currently, Ammari estimates about 40 percent of his revenue comes from wine sales.

“The problem with it is it’s going to be a convenience factor. When somebody’s at the grocery store, they’re going to pick up the big brand instead of going to the liquor store later,” he said. “I’m all for competition and everything like that, but we’re seeing more and more of the small businesses kind of going away to these big box stores.”

This isn’t the first time Colorado liquor stores have had to contend with added competition.

In 2019, grocery stores were granted the ability to sell full-strength beer, which led to similar concerns for what it would mean for local small businesses. Ammari said Vineland Liquors did take a hit, with beer sales going from about a third of its sales to about a quarter.

It was, however, able to adjust its business vision and stay afloat. While sales of bigger brands, such as Budweiser and Coors, did shrink, Vineland has been able to partner with smaller breweries in Colorado to offer different products. It has also seen sales of liquor continue to grow, an edge it will continue to have over grocery store chains.

Data from the Colorado Department of Revenue shows that the expansion of beer sales into grocery and convenience stores did not significantly reduce the number of liquor stores opening in the state.

In 2019, as beer sales in grocery stores began, 1,587 retail liquor stores held an active liquor license with the state. In 2020, the number did reduce slightly to 1,539. By 2021, however, the number had grown to 1,592. By 2022, 1,603 liquor stores were open and operating in the state. Total alcoholic beverage sales statewide grew by more than $7 million in the same time frame.

Ammari and his team are now working to make the same sort of adjustments to their business model with wine that they did with beer four years ago. While there is apprehension, he feels optimistic he and the majority of his fellow small liquor store owners will survive the change.

“We don’t plan to go anywhere, so you know, I’m hoping for the support of the community,” he said. “Small business is the backbone of America, and I hope it sticks around.”

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