Still undecided on Colorado's grocery store wine ballot issue? Ask yourself these questions

Proposition 125 on the Colorado ballot asks a simple question: Should grocery stores, convenience stores and retailers that are licensed to sell beer also be allowed to sell wine and things like wine coolers, hard cider and mead, all of which are now only sold in liquor stores?

But it's not exactly a simple issue: Its passage or failure could have impacts on a lot of different interests: consumers, local business owners, national grocery stores and the society we live in.

If this issue has you stumped, here are a few different ways of looking at it, articulated by Coloradoan Conversations participants when we asked them about it, and some questions to ask yourself.

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How important is convenience?

Martin Carcasson with CSU's Center for Public Deliberation, our partner in the Northern Colorado Deliberative Journalism Project, summed up the basic pros and cons from the Colorado Ballot Information book, known as the Blue Book.

The main argument in favor is this: "Consumers want the convenience of buying wine with groceries. This measure builds on the existing system to allow adults to buy wine in grocery and convenience stores, just as they do now with beer and other fermented malt beverages. These stores provide a safe and well-regulated environment to ensure responsible alcohol sales."

This "pro" is resonating in a lot of conversations about the measure. "It would be so convenient when buying a meal to pair the wine in the same spot," said a Facebook user commenting on the prospect.

But convenience isn't the only consideration for many.

Would this change in competition be healthy or unfair?

Proposition 125 seems "to introduce more healthy competition into the market for alcohol in our state," Matthew H. said. "The liquor stores who will suffer from this will be the ones who don't offer something you can't otherwise get at a grocery store. So if liquor stores can't compete on service, selection, price, or some other valuable dimension, then yes, they'll take a hit. But the stores who offer great products and service should continue to thrive by differentiating themselves in a competitive marketplace."

"The liquor store monopoly costs Colorado consumers a bundle," Stephen B. said.

For example, a Reddit user shared their experience: "I have gone to liquor stores where they have an extreme markup on various bottles and when I question why the markup is so high they say it’s because they are the only one that sells them. I have lived in three other states and Colorado is the only state that I have paid a 20%-30% markup from typical prices."

"If a business that charges 30% more for things, as happens at some of these local stores, closes, why do we need to keep them open and force consumers to pay more for something that doesn't have that value?" another Reddit commenter said.

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But is it fair competition, some ask, when grocery chains have more leverage than a small business?

"Any liquor store in Fort Collins is considered a small business when you compare them to the giants like Amazon, Walmart and Kroger. Kroger is about to own like 90% of all our grocery stores here now with their (planned) acquisition of (Albertsons) and Safeway" a Reddit commenter pointed out.

"This isn't about freedom or choice; it's about giving more power and control to national grocery conglomerates," Steve M. said. "The Safeway we once used as our go-to store declined in terms of service, selection and pricing after the Albertsons-Safeway combination. Now that Albertsons and Kroger (King Soopers) are expected to merge, I expect the same sort of decline will happen and the King Soopers we now frequent will suffer."

Further, some worry passing Proposition 125 eventually will lead to having fewer choices, not more.

"I'm not worried about Jack Daniels showing up at King Soopers — I'm worried that the local liquor store I buy Jack at now will go under, and I won't be able to get Horse and Dragon or Maxline beer at King Soopers because King Soopers can't be bothered," a Reddit commenter said.

What considerations should be given to small businesses?

The main argument against Proposition 125 in the Blue Book is again summarized by Carcasson: "The measure creates a disadvantage for small, locally owned liquor stores, and instead benefits large national grocery and convenience store chains. The automatic license conversion will more than double the number of stores where wine can be sold, without any community input or state or local government review."

Simply put, Proposition 125 "takes away revenue from small businesses by moving wine into larger ones," a Reddit user said.

Only the liquor store owners with the deepest pockets will thrive, Joe R. believes.

And the effects will trickle down, one Redditor contends. "This will have a much deeper and adverse impact than just the local liquor stores. If local, independent liquor stores go out of business, how does the craft industry (which Colorado prides itself on) get their product to consumers? The grocers certainly aren't going to carry beer from Maxline or wines from the Western Slope."

Illustrating the point, another Reddit commenter explained: "My parents have a small winery and they can tell you how trying to get a major grocery chain to carry your small-volume wine is pretty much a nonstarter. They have to do all their sales either direct-from-website or through small restaurants or liquor stores — the big guys aren't interested in small-volume products."

That idea received pushback:

"We were told that the sky would fall when grocery stores were allowed to sell full-strength beer. Yet I haven't seen any drop-off in the selection of craft beer in this state," Matthew H. said. "And I do patronize both grocery stores for a quick six pack, as well as high-quality liquor stores that offer a better selection from smaller Colorado brewers. Both can exist, and have different niches in the marketplace. What reason do we have to believe the same result won't occur here?"

Here's what the data says: Coloradoan reporting showed that there has been stability or a slight drop-off for liquor stores since grocers were allowed to sell full-strength beer. According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, there were about 1,582 retail liquor licenses issued in the state during the 2018 fiscal year, before full-strength beer sales in grocery stores. As of Oct. 4, there were about 1,555, marking a slight decrease in licenses.

In Fort Collins, the number of licensed liquor stores has ticked up slightly since the change, with 37 reported in 2018 and 39 today, according to the city.

If protecting small businesses is an important consideration for you, then follow the money to see which interests are supporting the ballot measure, a Reddit user suggested: "Ask yourself this, who do you think funds the 'pro small business' commercials surrounding the advertisements supporting (Proposition 125)? Is it the small pizza place or Chinese joint down the street ... that came up with thousands of dollars for TV and YouTube ads? It is the mom and pop liquor store who has that weird IPA or pumpkin ale no one else carries? No, it is major distribution and retail partners who paid for it all."

What do you think alcohol's place in society should be?

Why should alcohol get more space in a grocery store, many asked?

"Grocery stores allocated extra space when they were allowed to sell full-strength beer. If they add wine to their shelves, it will mean even less shelf space for food items," Deborah F. said. "The biggest supporters of this measure are corporations like Kroger and Target. They are eyeing larger profits from wine, as the profit margin on food items is typically very low, especially perishable items."

Furthermore, evaluating our ideas about alcohol's place in our society could affect how you'll choose to vote, a couple of Redditors said:

"We're defending small business because they already happen to be there. But if we were building society from the ground up, would a liquor store be the thing that we would want on every corner? Or a small grocery store instead? Go to almost any other country and you will find small bodegas on every street, and yes, they'll have some beer, too."

"I'm a big fan of booze, but it's a little too easy to buy these days," another commenter said. "Alcohol use has skyrocketed in the past couple of years. People aren't having trouble finding and drinking whatever they want."

Where do you stand on the idea of regulating business?

Proposition 125 gives an opportunity to consider arguments around how the government should regulate business and how it can do so fairly:

On one side:

"Let consumers make buying decisions on what is best for them ... . Why are we regulating liquor different than anything else?" a Reddit user said.

"I worry about the outsized influence of the liquor store lobby in Colorado politics; we are continually asked to treat this one particular category of businesses differently, insulating them from market pressures and competition in a way that would make little sense for virtually any other kind of businesses," Matthew H. said.

But there are reasons to regulate, a Redditor said. "'Less regulation is better' is a meme at this point — regulations exist because we as a people use them to create the society we want. What this issue boils down to is: Do we want bottom-dollar, monoculture wine and beer options in the grocery store, or do we want diverse and unique local options to select from? Regulations are the answer to that question, and they're not necessarily bad just for being regulations. They do serve a purpose, as it turns out."

And just in case the issue of alcohol is clouding the issue, here's an exercise another Reddit commenter suggested: "Would you have a different opinion if you replaced 'liquor store' with 'hardware store' or 'gas station?' Allowing our local government to dictate who is allowed to participate in a free market blocks innovation and decides who can win and lose. Government should provide oversight and make sure companies are competing fairly (antitrust, price gouging, monopolies) but shouldn't handicap one business because they are more successful and better at business."

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Colorado Proposition 125: Undecided voters, consider these questions