Grocery stores to become liquor stores?

Fri, Apr 9, 2010


We don’t expect much from lawmakers, especially state legislators.

We don’t expect them to be as wise as Learned Hand, or as well-informed as President Obama, or as personally disarming as President Clinton. We’d prefer that they not kick press photographers, or forward nasty racist e-mails to their colleagues or chase their girlfriends down the street while armed with a screwdriver-but we’re not surprised at such contretemps.

We do expect that, in considering legislation, they consider the common weal.

“Weal” is a word that has fallen into disuse. It means not just wealth, but a soundly based, equitable prosperity.┬áMembers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints understand this concept, which is reflected in the laws enacted over many decades by Utah legislators.

As an example, Utah controls the sale of alcohol more strictly than does any other state. There are no liquor stores as such, only state-owned outlets. Supermarkets can sell low-alcohol beer, and that’s about it.

Here’s how Utah’s department of alcoholic beverage control explains the state’s policy.

“Utah’s liquor laws are based on the general philosophy of making alcoholic beverages available in a manner that reasonably satisfies the public demand. In this respect, however, the state does not promote or encourage the sale or use of alcohol.”

Agree or disagree, it’s clear that Utah’s policy is founded upon a coherent philosophy of promoting the public weal. While recognizing the right of adults to consume alcohol, Utah legislators understand that the use of alcohol contributes to/causes many social ills, and believe that such use ought to be restricted, rather than encouraged.

By contrast, here in Colorado our legislature appears to be guided not by principle, but by the politics of money and influence.

At present, full strength beer, wine, and liquor can only be purchased at appropriately licensed privately owned liquor stores, which are restricted by law to a single location. Grocery stores can only carry low alcohol beer.

The legislature is considering a bill (HB 1279) which would allow grocery stores to carry all forms of alcoholic beverages, provided that they purchase the liquor license of two existing liquor stores located within 1,000 feet of the store. That would be quite a twofer, since it would enable the big boys to eliminate neighborhood competition and would, whether the legislature wants to admit it or not, make the purchase of alcohol easy, convenient and cheap.

Such a measure might advance the corporate interests of the four major chains that operate in Colorado, but it would effectively close hundreds of small businesses, make it more difficult for Colorado’s famous craft brewers to sell their wares, and remove whatever stigma may attach to the purchase of alcohol.

Vodka!! You’ll find it right down the aisle, next to the diary products. It’s just food – and it makes you feel so fine!

If I lived in Utah, I might rail about that state’s restrictive liquor laws, but I’d be thankful that those puritanical legislators base their decisions upon the public weal. That’s what lawmakers ought to do.

So the next time you hear one of our legislators prattle sanctimoniously about drunk driving, ask him/her how making liquor easier and less expensive to buy serves the public weal.

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6 Comments For This Post

  1. Lynn Liggett Says:

    The good thing about groceries being able to carry alcohol is that Trader Joe’s might actually come to Colorado then. If you’ve never been to one, next time you travel to CA or AZ stop in. You’re missing a real treat.

  2. Kent Karber Says:

    This analysis is fuzzy on several levels.

    Let’s start with Utah. Using Utah as a guiding light on how to sell booze is like looking to Nebraska for fashion advice. And I am not sure how, with the state owning liquor stores, Utah “does not promote or encourage the sale or use of alcohol”.

    More troubling is the statement that selling liquor in grocery stores will “remove whatever stigma may attach to the purchase of alcohol”. Huh? Sure, let’s have a puritanical, nanny state stigmatizing its citizens for engaging in legal conduct. That makes sense.
    All that said, I am not in favor of the change either: in states where liquor is sold in grocery stores, there is less floor space for groceries and usually less of a selection. New stores accommodate the increased inventory, but that takes a while. Also, the selection of wine and beer is usually more limited than a liquor store and if you like all the helpful cooking suggestions you get at Safeway, you will love their wine recommendations.

  3. Jon Says:

    Without the second paragraph, this aticle begins to border on unbiased writing…John, you’re scaring us.

  4. cghearn Says:


  5. Bob the Builder Says:

    Am I right in reading this whole article as a complaint that it will make buying alcohol more convenient, and that the state is (negatively) less heavy-handed than our religious nut-dominated neighbor?

    I’m sure I don’t need to go through the usual roll-call of “personal responsibility,” “parent states,” and all that noise, but really John — let’s let the big boys decide how much they want to drink and where they want to buy it.

  6. John Hazlehurst Says:

    Bob, I see your point-but I was trying to point out that the wal-martization of the state’s retail liquor distribution may have unanticipated and undesirable side effects. If grocery stores take over 70-80 percent of retail liquor sales, that’ll drive most of the mom & pops out of business. It’ll also mean that specialty wine/liquor stores will be pretty uncommon. The present system works well, so why change it to advantage a few out-of-state chains? And although I don’t think that I’d like Utah’s rigor, I admire the fact that legislators there do consider the negative social consequences that come with the consumption of alcohol.