Monday the Colorado House of Representatives defeated House Bill 1284. Reps. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, voted with the majority to kill it. That was the right thing to do, in spite of how little the issue was understood by the public.
Dubbed the beer bill, HB 1284 would have allowed grocery and convenience stores to sell the full-strength beer now available only in liquor stores.
It was touted as a question of consumer choice and fairness. In fact, it was part of a continuing effort to rearrange an entire industry and sacrifice thousands of locally owned small businesses to the interests of national grocery store chains.
Some background: Colorado, like several other states, allows the sale of two kinds of beer full-strength beer containing up to 6 percent alcohol (although most is less) and what is called three-two beer containing no more than 3.2 percent alcohol. Originally, 3.2 beer could be sold to 18-year-olds; there were even 3.2 bars. And 3.2 beer can be sold in grocery and convenience stores.
From the beginning, 3.2 beer was handled in an entirely different fashion than all other forms of alcoholic beverages. There were different operating hours and different rules for Sunday sales.
A national effort to standardize the drinking age at 21 ended much of the point to 3.2 beer. All that remained was the convenience of buying 3.2 at food stores and the fact those stores could sell beer on Sundays.
Allowing liquor stores to be open on Sundays ended that competitive advantage. Not surprisingly, convenience stores now want to sell full-strength beer.
But if conveniences stores can sell full-strength beer why not wine as well?
If wine is allowed why not liquor, too? And why not grocery stores? That is exactly where this is headed. The real players in this are the big national grocery chains and the real victims would be Colorados more than 1,600 independently owned liquor stores.
Colorado does not allow liquor store chains. Every liquor store is an independent small business. Profits and investments like their owners are part of their communities.
By law, every Colorado liquor store is also a specialty store, which is the advantage they offer consumers. Liquor stores are permitted to sell only beer, wine, liquor and a few related products. They cannot sell food, laundry soap, Halloween costumes or any of the countless other varieties of stuff that occupy supermarkets shelves and compete for their attention.
To a grocery chain it is all the same. While liquor store operators are often quite knowledgeable about their products, imagine trying to get advice about wine for that special dinner at a supermarket. Imagine, too, the care and attention a national chains head office might devote to local tastes or preferences, let alone local products.
The selection would be homogenized, with a few top-selling brands dominating. The locally produced beers, wines and craft spirits Western Colorado is becoming known for would be hard pressed to compete with national brands for supermarket shelf space. And prices are typically no better.
Consumers might gain convenience, but everybody would lose. Colorado would lose jobs, kill independent small businesses and ship locally generated profits out of state.
There is more to this than a six-pack. Brown, Coram and company did well to recognize that.