Steamboat Springs Prohibition has been over for 75 years, but Colorado's liquor laws still possess vestiges of regulations dating to 1933. State legislators are aiming to change that, drawing the ire of local retailers.
A bill has been introduced for the 2008 legislative session that would make Colorado the 35th state to permit liquor sales on Sundays. Another bill is in the works that would greatly expand what some grocery stores can stock.
"I think our laws are outdated," said state Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, who introduced the bill allowing Sunday retail liquor sales. "It makes sense in this day and age."
Veiga introduced SB-082 earlier this month, citing consumer convenience as her primary motivation. The bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate's Business, Labor and Technology Committee, which Veiga chairs.
Other states that have overridden so-called "blue laws" forbidding Sunday liquor sales have seen considerable economic benefits, Veiga said.
But a number of Steamboat Springs liquor stores, especially those that cater primarily to the local market, fear staying open on Sundays would either not be worth their while or that the passage of SB-082 would pave the way for even less-desired changes to state liquor laws.
"Sunday sales - I'm terribly against it," Central Park Liquor owner Greg Stetman said. "It's my opinion that people are not going to drink any more because we have another day to sell."
While Cellar Liquor owner Chris Gibbens embraced the idea of an additional day of revenue each week, he was unsure how the profits would balance out in the end - whether he would see an increase from his current sales levels, or a similar level that would be spread across an entire week instead of six days.
Owners were in agreement that any Sunday sales boost the legislation would provide would be primarily from ski season tourists.
Market on the Mountain owner Bill Stuart is used to explaining the Sunday sales prohibition to dozens of confused tourists each week. He said reversing the restriction could add a very profitable day to his week since ski season makes up a significant portion of his profit.
"Our out-of-town guests would be better served if we could sell wine on Sunday, since they might only be here a few days," Stuart said.
Stetman expressed reservations that changing the current liquor laws would be akin to "opening a huge can of worms," and could have even worse impacts on independent liquor stores, especially by expanding the opportunities for grocery stores and chain retailers to capture market share.
"The minute we have Sunday sales, within one year, there will be a huge rallying cry from all the chain stores to get a multiple-license possible," Stetman said.
Under current laws, each owner can have only a stake in one entity with a liquor license, which prevents chain liquor stores from cropping up in Colorado and limits grocery stores to a single store in the state with full liquor sales, Stetman said.
A second bill, expected to be introduced in coming weeks by Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, would allow certain grocery stores to sell regular beer and wine, instead of being limited to sales of 3.2 beer under current law. Qualifying retailers would be required to have a pharmacy and have food comprise at least 51 percent of sales - eliminating retail giants such as Wal-Mart, as well as smaller grocery stores and rural mercantiles that lack pharmacies.
"I don't want to see what it will do to independent businesses," said Pioneer Spirits co-owner Jeff Worst. Worst has discussed the issue with many of his distributors, and said their responses have been entirely negative.
"I think you're going to put a lot of liquor stores out of business," Stetman said. "If you pass any of these (bills), the whole thing will come crumbling down."
Gibben and Stetman said they would have to change the focus of their stock to remain competitive if the law is passed, perhaps by focusing more on wine and specialty products while eschewing beer.
While customers still would frequent liquor stores with good selections of wine, spirits and microbrews, smaller liquor stores, especially those that sell a significant amount of domestic beer, would be in trouble, Stetman said.
"We make the least on beer, so we have the least to lose," Stetman said.
Downtown liquor retailers also speculated they would be less affected by grocery store sales than other merchants but still expect such a change would hurt their businesses.
"It's definitely going to affect a few retailers more than it does us," Gibbens said, noting that Ski Haus and Central Park liquor stores are adjacent to City Market and Safeway and others such as Vino are close by.
"It'll be interesting to see how it all pans out," Gibbens said.