Coloradans can buy wine in grocery stores starting in March

After counting up the remaining votes from Denver, Proposition 125 changed direction and narrowly passed, letting Coloradans buy a bottle of wine at the grocery store.

Grocery and convenience stores with a license to sell beer can begin selling wine on March 1. That’s approximately 1,819 licensees as of June 2021, according to the Department of Revenue. They’ll also be able to offer beer and wine tastings.

“We’re pleased that Coloradans will soon be able to pick up a bottle of wine when purchasing groceries,” said Rick Reiter, campaign director for Wine in Grocery Stores. “Consumer habits are evolving, and it was inevitable that either this election, or one soon thereafter, that Colorado would become the 40th state to have wine in grocery stores.”

A sign supports Propositions 125 and 126, regarding wine sales in Colorado grocery stores and alcohol delivery services, at a King Soopers Nov. 8, 2022, in Englewood. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The measure was losing by less than a percentage point for most of election night and the next two days. The “yes” votes jumped ahead on the third evening.

As votes were counted, the opinion was strong between rural and urban communities. Rural counties voted largely against Proposition 125 while the Denver metro area and El Paso counties were in favor.

La Plata County, in the southwest corner of the state, rejected Proposition 125 by a clear majority, or 57.3% of voters. Denver voters, meanwhile, approved the measure by nearly the opposite, with 55% voting in favor.

The measure statewide finished ahead by more than 28,000 votes, far outside the margin at which a recount would be triggered. The split was 50.6% in favor, 49.4% against out of 2.43 million votes.

Jack Llewellyn, CEO of the Durango Chamber of Commerce, urged members to consider Proposition 125 in terms of the local impact on local liquor stores. Employees and owners are often the experts who can suggest the perfect wine for every occasion. He fears many local stores will go out of business.

“In metropolitan areas, you have so many options and choices. The convenience becomes the most important thing and not thinking about a small business owner,” Llewellyn said. “Things that are decided for our state are decided because the population is in Denver.”

Proposition 125 opposition felt there was still hope that it could turn around with thousands of votes remaining last week, even if not all were in metropolitan areas, said Chris Fine, executive director of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, which represents small liquor retailers and opposed all three alcohol measures.

“We know it hasn’t been trending in our direction and obviously that’s due to metro Denver, Arapahoe and El Paso and the big counties that have been on the other side of us,” Fine said.

With Proposition 125, there will still be rules for alcohol sales. Grocery stores can sell wine, but not through self-checkout. The measure also doesn’t change any other existing rules, such as the prohibition of sales between midnight and 8 am, and no alcohol sales to anyone under 21.

Two other alcohol-related measures failed this election. Proposition 124, which failed in all 64 counties, would have let a liquor retailer operate eight locations, up from the current three, and then allow companies to have an unlimited number operating by 2037. Colorado’s existing law still allows expansion, but much more slowly . Liquor stores can add up to four locations starting in 2027.

And the defeat of Proposition 126, which lost 48.9% to 51.1%, ended plans for alcohol delivery by third parties like DoorDash and Instacart. While advocates had hoped third parties would help small liquor stores expand into delivery if they hadn’t yet because they couldn’t spare employees, liquor stores can currently deliver alcohol under existing state statute. They just have to use their own staff and own or lease their own vehicles. The campaign to approve the measure was largely funded by DoorDash and Instacart.

“At the same time, we are disappointed that thousands of Colorado small businesses will miss out on vital economic opportunities that third-party alcohol delivery would have provided,” said Reiter, who represented the Yes on 125 and 126 campaigns.

The loss of Proposition 126 also dashed the hope of anyone hoping to keep to-go cocktails flowing. The menu item was an allowance made in the pandemic to help restaurants recover revenues. It ends in July 2025.

“It’s widely known that restaurants have been one of the most devastated industries over the past two years and it’s disheartening to see that voters are not willing to support these businesses in serving their guests in a responsible way,” Colorado Restaurant Association President and CEO Sonia Riggs said in a statement. “Without Proposition 126, alcohol to go is set to expire in summer 2025, and that crucial revenue lifeline will be stripped from restaurants when they need it most. It will impact customer service, revenue, and the convenience that consumers have come to expect.”

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