Liquor retailers bash bill

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Liquor owners in Steamboat Springs fear a proposed change in state law could lead to last call for mom-and-pop stores.

State Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, is working on the language of a bill that would repeal a 1933 law that bans liquor sales on Sundays. The measure might apply to only resort towns and, if passed, could include a provision letting local governments decide whether to allow Sunday sales.

But liquor store owners in this town want nothing to do with it.

Many of them think Veiga's proposal would lead to a hard charge from national supermarket chains to be allowed to sell full-strength spirits, as they do in other states. And that would have a significant effect on Steamboat's dozen liquor stores.

"We feel the law has been pushed by big distilling conglomerates," Bottleneck owner John Marshall said. "They want to see (liquor) in grocery stores. It's easier to distribute to one big store than seven or eight small ones."

Liquor store owners here say that grocery stores currently dominate Sundays -- when they can continue to sell 3.2 beer. Allowing liquor stores to open on Sunday would, in effect, cause all 12 local stores to jump into the game. Inevitably, they would cut into grocery store sales, giving them an opening to demand something in return to offset the lost 3.2 beer sales. They fear that "something" would be full liquor sales in grocery stores.

"Everyone I've ever spoken to in the six years I've been in this business is absolutely convinced that if we have a repeal of the ban on Sunday sales, that's what would happen," Greg Stetman of Central Park Liquor said. "We believe it would be the beginning of that process. They'd really come after it, and we would have big, chain liquor stores here."

Stetman owns the biggest liquor store in Steamboat, and it is next door to a supermarket. He said if it was just about Sunday sales, and not the threat of liquor sales in groceries, he wouldn't have a problem with the change.

But owners of smaller stores say Sundays are important to their lifestyles. Although Veiga's measure wouldn't force them to open on Sundays, they say they couldn't afford to be one of the few stores in town that wouldn't be open.

"I like Sundays off," Ted Heid of Southside Liquors said. "I like to watch football. Sure, I'd make some money on Sunday, but can't you go one day without buying liquor?"

Joe Armstrong of Arctic Liquor said Sunday is the day he doesn't have to worry about the phone ringing because an employee needs a question answered.

"A big grocery store owner isn't put out (by Sunday liquor sales) because he's not going to pull the shift," Armstrong said. "Sunday is our only guaranteed day off. We do not want that to change."

Marshall said he views sales of liquor in nationally owned stores as undermining Steamboat's middle class.

"I pay my people a lot better than the discount stores" pay their employees, he said.

Stetman said he struggles to reconcile Veiga's bill with four or five other initiatives designed to restrict the accessibility of alcohol. Many of those other measures were inspired by drinking deaths on the state's college campuses and serious motor vehicle accidents involving teenage drinking.

"Veiga is in favor of all those other measures," Stetman said. "I don't quite get it."

Marshall, who has been in business on Lincoln Avenue for 32 years, said if the day comes when grocery stores are able to sell liquor here, his shop would transition into a specialty store offering brands the chains do not.

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