Liquor store owners react to booze bill | SteamboatToday.com

Liquor store owners react to booze bill







— Some Steamboat Springs liquor store owners are supportive of a bill that would slowly phase in full-strength alcohol sales at grocery stores, but one Craig business owner thinks it's a raw deal.

"Of course, I prefer the laws as they are now, but I think this will be a fairly decent compromise for someone like me, in that it will be quite a bit of time before we see an impact on business," said Tom Ihrig, owner of Steamboat Discount Liquors.

Fearing a ballot measure that would ask voters to allow full-strength alcohol sales in grocery stores, liquor stores across the state were open to a compromise. Interested parties and lawmakers have spent weeks negotiating the deal, which passed with strong approval in the Colorado House of Representative and Senate on Wednesday. The bill is now on its way to the governor's desk, and Gov. John Hickenlooper has said in the past he is in favor of the existing liquor laws.

If Hickenlooper signs the bill into law, throughout a five-year period, grocery store chains will be allowed to have as many as five locations that sell full-strength alcohol, and throughou the next 20 years, the number of locations allowed will be adjusted to 20. After 20 years, there will be no limit on the number of locations.

That's a comfort to some local liquor store owners, at least for the next 20 years. Ihrig said it makes sense grocery stores would want to use their allowance of locations on stores near larger population centers, not in areas such as Northwest Colorado.

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There is also language in the bill stating if a grocery store wants to sell full-strength alcohol, it would have to buy out two liquor stores to get their licenses. If there is a liquor store within 1,500 feet of the grocery store, it would have to buy out that liquor store.

"Certainly, for us, I think it is a very great step in the right direction," Central Park Liquors owner Greg Stetman said of the bill. "This will save the whole state an incredible amount of jobs."

He said Central Park employees 28 people.

Liquor store owners still do not feel completely safe, however.

Your Choice Colorado, the group formed to gather enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, has threatened to continue its efforts.

The group said in a statement that lawmakers failed Colorado residents again.

"Your Choice Colorado will continue to give voters the ability to make their voices heard amidst this broken system — whether through a legal challenge to this sloppy bill or as planned, taking it to the ballot in 2016," the organization stated.

In Craig, one liquor store owner is fearful the new law will harm local business and, in turn, tax coffers.

"You're not adding any more people to the pool," said Lenny Gillam, owner of Stockmen's Liquor. "All you're doing is stretching it out."

Gillam said adding grocery stores to a stagnant consumer base is bound to draw business from the "mom and pop" operations.

He said the economy is already stressed in Craig, and he hopes Craig city council and its residents will act to prevent the rule from being implemented locally.

"Even if it's 10 cents that they're taking out of our community, we need it here," Gillam said.

Craig Daily Press reporter Patrick Kelly contributed to this report.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland