Feb 15, 2023 - News

Expanded wine sales are sparking fear among small liquor store owners

A sign advertising incoming wine sales outside the 12th Avenue Market in Denver's Congress Park neighborhood on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. Photo: Esteban L. Hernandez/Axios

Starting March 1, people in Colorado will be able to buy groceries in one aisle — and their favorite pinot noir in another.

Why it matters: Some small wine and liquor store owners worry the expanded options will chip away at their alcohol sales — and potentially put them out of business.

Catch up quick: Last fall, voters narrowly decided to allow grocery and convenience stores with a license to sell beer to also sell wine between 8am and midnight.

  • There are at least 1,877 eligible stores that will be able to add wine to their shelves, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Driving the news: Carolyn Joy, who owns Joy Wine & Spirits in Denver's Country Club neighborhood, said the new measure will "monopolize" alcohol sales and make it harder for small, independent shops like hers to keep up if people choose to buy their wine at larger chains.

  • "There's definitely not a level playing field," Joy tells Axios Denver, adding larger stores can face losses from wine sales but make up for it with other products like food or other groceries.
  • She says shops like hers rely primarily on wines and spirits to make their bottom line.

The other side: Supporters of the measure allowing more wine sales said this makes it easier for adults to buy alcohol in one trip, rather than stopping at multiple stores.

What they're saying: "The neighborhood is super excited," 12th Avenue Market convenience store owner Shaun Johnson tells Axios Denver.

  • Johnson said he plans on stocking his store in Denver's Congress Park neighborhood with wines from local wineries. He currently sells beer in addition to food and snacks.

Between the lines: Large corporations, like Whole Foods and Kroger, spent millions gathering support for new measures changing the state's liquor laws.

  • However, voters only approved the one expanding wine sales.
  • Two other initiatives — one that would have allowed more liquor store chain shop locations and another that would have changed rules over alcohol delivery — failed at the ballot box.

The intrigue: There's data suggesting liquor stores did lose business to grocery stores after full-strength beer — with more than 3.2% alcohol by weight — was allowed to be sold by Colorado grocers in 2019.

  • Market research shows stores that primarily sold beer have lost the equivalent of 6.6 million cases of beer in sales since 2018, according to beer website Good Beer Hunting.
  • Those sales were gained by grocery and convenience stores.

What we're watching: With expanded wine sales about two weeks away, Colorado Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Chris Fine tells Axios Denver that roughly a quarter to a third of the 1,600 small liquor stores throughout the state are in "serious jeopardy" of going out of business.


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